The Rangers seem close to getting two of their most important players back in the lineup. Though it won’t be Tuesday when the Rangers skate against the Sabres in Buffalo, it appears that it’s a case of sooner rather than later that both Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist will again be playing for the Rangers.
Nash, who has missed 19 consecutive games with a bad bone bruise in his leg, skated for 45 minutes on his own Monday morning at the MSG Training Center and then joined his teammates at practice for the first time since suffering his injury on January 26 in Carolina. Nash wore a red non-contact jersey and only took part in some of the drills, but he, his teammates and the head coach were clearly all thrilled with this positive next step in Nash’s recovery.
“It’s good and it’s exciting,” said a smiling Nash after practice. “The toughest part is not playing, but it’s also tough not being around these guys, they are like family. Having that taken away is not too fun. It felt good out there. It was a positive day, for sure.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault was also clearly enthused by what he say from Nash on Monday.
“He is progressing very well,” Vigneault said of Nash. “He was week to week, now he’s day to day. He’s got to get a couple practices in, get some contact, with the team. I do know that it looks very positive at this point.”
Nash said it was “tough to keep up” with his teammates at practice after so many weeks on the sidelines and that he needs to “definitely get my cardio going”, but that he was itching to get back in the lineup as soon as possible.
“You have to be smart with it, but obviously I’d like to come back right now—really I wanted to be back six weeks ago,” stated Nash. “You have to make sure it’s safe to come back, get the OK from the doctors and trainers.”
Lundqvist has been sidelined for a far shorter time than Nash, but he, too, is tempering his anxiousness to get back with making sure he is 100 percent healthy before doing so. Since suffering neck spasms in a collision with teammate Ryan McDonagh last Thursday in Pittsburgh, Lundqvist has missed two games, and he will not play against the Sabres on Tuesday either.
On Monday Lundqvist worked on drills before practice with goalie coach Benoit Allaire, assistant coach Darryl Williams and teammate Chris Kreider. He left the ice once the rest of the team came on. Antti Raanta will start in goal Tuesday in Buffalo, and rookie Magnus Hellberg again will serve as the back up goaltender.
“I feel better, each day is definitely a step in the right direction,” stated Lundqvist. “I had a light skate (Sunday), increased today, and the plan is to skate again with Benny tomorrow and then be ready for the weekend.”
The Rangers do not play until Saturday in Detroit against the Red Wings after the Sabres game Tuesday. They also have a game scheduled for Sunday at Madison Square Garden against the Penguins.
“He has to be 100 percent because that’s a demanding position and he’s got to feel good about himself,” Vigneault said of his No. 1 goaltender. “Right now I think he’s still having some minor issues with the neck. He’s real close. It’s just a matter of a couple good practices and he should be ready to go.”
Nash and Lundqvist did not travel with the team to Buffalo. They will remain in New York to work on ice with Allaire on Tuesday.