There were some young players stepping into prominent roles in the Rangers' preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night: Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko -- ages 20, 19 and 18, respectively -- each got a chance at a regular shift on a line with Mika Zibanejad as their center, as the Rangers use every bit of their exhibition schedule to give opportunities up and down their Training Camp roster.
So where does Henrik Lundqvist fit into that kind of a youth movement?
"Hank is Benjamin Button," Brendan Lemieux declared after Henrik Lundqvist was named First Star of Thursday night's 2-1 shootout win in a preseason match with the Flyers. "Tonight is pretty self-explanatory."
The games that count are now less than a week away, and that fact was fairly evident on the ice, where the pace and physicality went up a notch on Thursday night. The Flyers go from here to Europe, where they will begin their regular season in Prague, so they had brought a near-NHL-ready group, which the Rangers felt provided a valuable test for them.
"These are the games you want to play. It's not summer hockey," said Chris Kreider. "Guys are playing a patient, heavy game where, especially with the ice being pretty bad, you've got to play simple, you've got to play hard and you've got to play patient. I think we started doing that as the game went on -- guys stopped trying to do too much and started just trying to tilt the ice.
"Those are the games that help you develop chemistry and force you to play the way you need to play during the regular season. So that was a good one for us."
But if it represented a new level in this preseason, it culminated in a familiar sight around here, which was Lundqvist winning a goaltenders' duel at the Garden. Lundqvist played his third game of the preseason but took it from start to finish for the first time, which in this case meant 65 minutes plus the shootout -- during which time he was about as close to perfect as can be.
He stopped 32 of 33 shots in regulation and overtime, with the only puck to get past him coming on a heave out of the corner that found Travis Konecny's skate blade and banked in. Lundqvist has now stopped 55 of the last 56 shots he has seen, covering three games in the preseason.
In the shootout, he came up with saves on Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and 19-year-old rookie Joel Farabee, while Mika Zibanejad roofed a backhander over Philly's Carter Hart (31 saves) as the Rangers beat a Flyers team that was playing its sixth and final NHL preseason game.
With the Rangers' final preseason game on Saturday and less than a week to go before Opening Night, Lundqvist feels in prime shape, and the Rangers feel in a very good place with their goaltending.
"I just feel very good technically and physically right now," Lundqvist said. "I feel very well prepared for the season."
"I think those three saves in the shootout kind of paint the picture for how good he looks in camp and how good he's been," Lemieux said. "I mean, all three good moves, good tries, and he made three great saves. He's a rock star, he has been his whole career. And he's showing it."
Lemieux, playing just his second game of the preseason, was not so bad himself in his 14:02 of ice, which he started by dropping gloves with Sean Couturier 4:16 into the game. Nor were Lemieux's linemates, Lias Andersson and Vlad Namestnikov -- it was Andersson who got the Rangers' goal in regulation, batting a puck out of midair after Namestnikov had done the same.
Tony DeAngelo, in his preseason debut, picked up an assist on the goal, and while Lemieux didn't, it was his battle in front with Philly defenseman Robert Hagg that helped set up the scoring play, and was emblematic of Lemieux's physical play all night.
"It definitely had a good pace to it, and a little bit of bite," Lemieux said of the game. "You know guys are gearing up for the season, so that's what we expected."
As for Andersson, he picked up his second goal of the preseason while continuing to get a regular look on special teams. David Quinn called it "his best game of the preseason. I liked his game in a lot of ways. He's been going in that direction. We've all talked about how he's changed his body, and his commitment, and I'm very proud of him that he's gotten in the shape that he's in, and it showed tonight."
Quinn also had praise for DeAngelo's preseason debut -- "I thought he defended well, I thought he made good passes. I just liked a lot about Tony tonight" -- and said he was leaning toward playing DeAngelo once more on Saturday, "for Tony's sake," though he hadn't made a final decision on personnel for the Rangers' preseason finale, against the Islanders in Bridgeport, Conn.