Henrik Lundqvist has started a franchise-record 111 consecutive post-season games for the Rangers since a 2006 first-round series against the New Jersey Devils, but that streak is in question after the club's No. 1 goalie was injured against the Pittsburgh Penguins and forced out of the series opener after one period of play on Wednesday night.
Roughly twelve hours after the Rangers 5-2 Game One loss in Pittsburgh, head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that Lundqvist will see an eye doctor today after being struck by teammate Marc Staal's stick just below the eye late in the opening period the night before.
"At this time we don't feel it's anything too serious," stated Vigneault. "There's a little bit of swelling near the eye and around the eye, so he's going to see a specialist this afternoon and we'll have more news tomorrow."
Vigneault added that Lundqvist would need to practice with his teammates on Friday to be considered for the start in Game Two of this best-of-seven series Saturday afternoon at the CONSOL Energy Center. As a precaution, rookie Magnus Hellberg--who won his 30th game of the season for the Hartford Wolf Pack yesterday--was recalled from the minor leagues to back up Antti Raanta should Lundqvist not be able to play.
"It's in case we get some bad news," Vigneault said of Hellberg's call up. "At this time we don't feel that way and it's just a matter of being on the safe side and making sure everything is alright."
The Rangers did not practice on Thursday, but the team did make Vigneault and a few of the players available to the media at their downtown hotel. Everyone who spoke acknowledged that losing Henrik for any duration would be a major blow, while also expressing full support in Raanta.
"It's tough shoes to fill because Hank's been the backbone of this team, but we have to look at this as a challenge--and (Raanta) has been great all year and can fill those shoes," said Rick Nash.
Added alternate captain Derek Stepan, "Henrik is a huge part of our group and certainly is a guy we rely on heavily. Guys will have to step up in Hank's absence and (Raanta) is a goaltender that's played extremely well for us down the stretch. We have 100 percent confidence in him."
Raanta made his NHL playoff debut in relief of Lundqvist last night, playing the final two periods. He surrendered three goals on 19 shots--one on a Sidney Crosby clean breakaway, anther on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush, and the third on a power play scramble. Raanta also made several sharp saves to keep the Rangers in the game, including a pair on Eric Fehr in tight during the second period.
Heading into the post-season Raanta played very well for New York, winning seven of his last eight starts and allowing two goals or fewer in each of those victories. Raanta was 11-6-2 this season while tying his career-high by appearing in 25 games. He posted a 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage while recording the fourth shutout of his NHL career.
"I think we have as much confidence in (Raanta) as anyone," stated defenseman Keith Yandle. "He's been great for us all year. He's a guy who works hard every day to help us get better and we've got tons of confidence in him."
Until told otherwise, however, the Rangers hope and plan is that Lundqvist will be able to make the start on Saturday after the freak injury he suffered in Game One. Vigneault said Thursday that Henrik "was adamant" about staying in the game immediately following being hit near the eye, but the team's medical personnel believed it was best that he not finish the game.
"He had a tough time seeing out of his eye" as the first intermission moved along, according to Vigneault, prompting his removal from game action.
"You never want to see any player on your team hurt and down on the ice, especially when he's your leader and best player," explained Nash. "It's part of the game, injuries happen and every team goes through it. We've just got to use this as a challenge."
Added Yandle, "It's tough to see. You never want to see anyone get hurt, whether it's your teammate or anyone else, especially when it's your goalie, your best player. Right when it happens you just think about him getting better."
As for injured defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who sat out the series opener with an upper body injury--the fourth straight game he's missed--Vigneault said he would not be able to play in Game Two on Saturday, though still referred to him as "day to day".