With a simple declarative comment following Friday's practice at the MSG Training Center, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed what had been expected--and hoped--for several days: that Henrik Lundqvist was past his neck issues and would be able to return to action this weekend.
"Hank is good to go," stated Vigneault. "He's had a couple good days of practice and feels real good so he's going to play (Saturday against the Red Wings in Detroit)."
Lundqvist, who originally suffered neck spasms after a collision with teammate Ryan McDonagh eight days ago in Pittsburgh, missed the previous three games, but has been feeling better since early in the week.
He had a good on-ice workout with teammate Rick Nash and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire on Tuesday when the rest of the team was up in Buffalo to play the Sabres, and also took part in Thursday's optional practice, before Friday's full-scale practice.
"It's only been a week, but it's a week with no skating as a team until today," explained Lundqvist. "Today was important for me to get a practice with full speed, two on ones, situations with a lot of speed coming at me. I feel like I'm in good shape it's just about getting my timing back."
As for playing Saturday in Detroit, Lundqvist simply stated, "I feel like I'm ready to play and help the team to win."
The Rangers, with Antti Raanta starting all three games in goal, won two of three in Lundqvist's absence. They sandwiched road wins in Washington and Buffalo around Sunday's home-ice loss to the Islanders. The Blueshirts have not played since Tuesday in Buffalo.
"I just need to go out there and play, relax, trust my instincts," said Lundqvist. "When you are used to playing a lot, then don't play for a week, of course you're going to feel it; but it's really a mindset, just being comfortable and trusting yourself."
Lundqvist would not speculate if he would also start Sunday afternoon at The Garden when the Rangers host the Pittsburgh Penguins, choosing to instead just focus on the Red Wings game on Saturday.
Defenseman Marc Staal returned to practice on Friday. It was his first time on the ice in a week, sidelined the past two games with back spasms.
"It flared up on me pretty bad following the Washington game (last Friday) and locked up on me so that I really couldn't do anything, but the past few days it's gotten better and better and it felt pretty good today," explained Staal, who is expecting to be able to play Saturday in Detroit.
Staal missed the February 23 game in New Jersey with back spasms then played in three straight games until felled by the flu, forcing him to sit out the game in Pittsburgh last Thursday. Still weakened and dehydrated by the flu, Staal played the following night against the Capitals and that set off the back spasms again.
So bad were things that Staal said today he could not even bend over to tie his shoes. However he feels the back is much more loose now.
"I think we got over the hump these past four, five days to really settle it down," offered Staal. "I feel pretty confident it's behind me."
Vigneault said that as long as the back does not flare up again, Staal will be in the lineup Saturday.
Speaking of the flu, Derick Brassard is the latest Ranger to catch the bug. He did not attend practice on Friday and is questionable for Saturday's game in Detroit.
Vigneault said that if Brassard is feeling better later today he will fly on his own to Detroit, or could also do so early tomorrow morning if he recovers over the evening hours.
So far Dan Boyle, Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik, and Marc Staal have all been felled by the flu in recent weeks.
Rangers lines and defense pairings used at Friday's practice: