After leaving practice early the day before because he was feeling ill, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was back on the ice for Tuesday afternoon's practice; and afterwards he declared himself nearly 100 percent healthy and definitely ready to go in Game One of the team's opening round playoff series Wednesday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
"Every time you don't feel 100 percent you don't know exactly when you'll feel right again, but today was a good step, a good practice for me," explained Lundqvist. "I'm confident that tomorrow with another skate I'll be ready."
Lundqvist was forced from the ice twice on Monday, the second time for good, because he was feeling sick. Though he admitted to not being feeling quite perfect on Tuesday, he managed to last the entire hour-long practice, and said he wants to fine-tune things Wednesday morning taking part in the morning skate, whether it's an optional or a full team on-ice workout before the series opener at CONSOL Energy Center.
Long-time teammate Marc Staal laughed when asked if he was concerned that Lundqvist might be unavailable to play in Game One because of his health issues, saying that there was "no way the competitor Hank is he would miss one of these games."
"It's a fun time of the year, and it's also a time where the pressure adds up and the excitement builds up, so you just enjoy the moment," said Lundqvist, who has appeared in 111 career post-season games, including 17 over three separate series against Pittsburgh. "Half the league is done, so you have to appreciate this moment right now and try and reach our full potential here and see how far it takes us."
Lundqvist was brilliants two years ago when he backstopped the Rangers incredible rally from 3-1 down to a seven-game series win in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs over the Penguins, allowing just 13 goals in the seven contests. Last spring he led the Rangers to a 4-1 series win in the opening round against Pittsburgh, fashioning a superb 1.53 GAA.
While past success is nice, Lundqvist is fully aware of how good the Penguins have been playing the second half of this season, especially of late, winning 14 of their final 16 regular season contests.
"We know it's a great team," stated Lundqvist. "The last few years it's always been a great challenge for all of us to try and go in there and win. They're fast, they're good, but we know we can beat them. It's going to be a very tough and challenging series. We know they're good, but it's important we focus more on ourselves."
The Rangers have come to expect greatness from their No. 1 goaltender, both in the regular season and particularly in the playoffs where Lundqvist has led his club to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final appearances in three of the last four years--2012, 2014, and 2015.
"We're just expecting him to make a difference, and he's going to be competing hard in the net, and for whatever reason he loves to play in that building," offered center Derick Brassard. "It's probably because they have so many star players, so he feels he has to step up all the time. He has so much skill, but on top of that he competes really hard."
While Henrik is set to start the series opener, the Penguins have yet to name their starting goalie for Game One. The club's No. 1, Marc-Andre Fleury, missed the final five games of the regular season due to a concussion. He has practiced the past two days, but head coach Mike Sullivan did not commit to Fleury being able to play when the series opens up on Wednesday.
With Fleury's backup Matt Murray currently injured, third-string goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who appeared in 14 games this season, could possibly be between the pipes on Wednesday night.