Two days after taking a stick to the eye and not being able to play the final two periods of the Rangers Game One loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Henrik Lundqvist was the first player on the ice for Friday's practice at the CONSOL Energy Center, likely causing a tremendous collective exhale from the worried Blueshirts Faithful back home in New York when the good news reached them via social media.
"Today I felt pretty good," Lundqvist told reporters after taking part in a high-tempo 45-minute practice. "It's a lot better. After the hit it was very blurry and hard to focus, and that's why I left the game. That night it improved a lot, so I had a good feeling yesterday; and then I saw the specialist who said there was no damage to the eye. I'm just very happy, I feel lucky that nothing bad happened."
Head coach Alain Vigneault would not commit to Lundqvist being the team's starter for Game Two Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, but he and the players were obviously extremely happy that Henrik had not suffered a major injury and that he was instead in a position where he could play tomorrow.
"He was cleared to practice today and he is a game-time decision tomorrow," Vigneault said of Lundqvist. "Everybody want to see how he's going to react to the strain of the practice. So it'll be a game-time call tomorrow."
Another good sign for Lundqvist's availability for the second game of this best-of-seven on Saturday is that Magnus Hellberg--Hartford's No. 1 goalie who was recalled from the minor leagues on Thursday's off-day--did not take part in practice, leaving Henrik and Antti Raanta to handle all of the work. Hellberg did face shots and get some work in after the formal part of practice was over.
"It's really important he was back out there," J.T. Miller said of Lundqvist. "He's our leader, we need him to be healthy. It's good to see him out there performing well at practice. It was a scary moment, tough to see that, and you definitely don't want to see that."
Added Derick Brassard, "We're just happy that he's OK."
Lundqvist's right eye lid was a bit swollen and black and blue on Friday, the result of teammate Marc Staal's stick accidentally finding its way through Henrik's mask during a battle in front of the Rangers net with 48.2 seconds to play in the first period Wednesday night.
The immediate aftermath was a frightening few minutes for Lundqvist.
"Accidents happen, injuries happen..within a year I have experienced two freak accidents," Lundqvist said, referring also to his vascular injury last season after being struck in the throat. "It was extremely painful, but at the same time you go numb. Before you open your eyes, you don't really know what the reaction is going to be, and that was the scary part for the first 20-30 seconds."
Lundqvist was able to finish the first period--though not before surrendering the game's first goal in the final seconds--saying Friday, "I didn't want Antti coming into a tough spot." His eye began to swell more in the intermission ,and the decision was made that Raanta would replace Lundqvist between the pipes.
"You can't put yourself ahead of the team," stated Lundqvist.
After getting a good report from an eye specialist Thursday, Lundqvist looked sharp in practice Friday, and now Rangers Nation will wait to find out if he gets the starting nod on Saturday, with the New York looking to avoid falling behind 2-0 in this series.
"That crisp focus (in the eye), for a goalie that's pretty much everything," explained Lundqvist. "You have to be able to focus quickly on moving objects. I'm very pleased with how my eye has responded here."