NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, December 23, 2015, 11:13 AM
Several Rangers stressed after Tuesday night’s 3-2 OT win over the Anaheim Ducks that they desperately need this four-day Christmas break to “decompress” and “reset,” especially Henrik Lundqvist.
“I have to,” Lundqvist said after nearly coughing up the victory on Ducks forward Rickard Rakell’s game-tying goal late in Tuesday’s third period. “It’s been very draining over the last few weeks. It’s been a lot of hockey, traveling and a lot of games, and on top of that we haven’t had the results with us.
“Of course you analyze a lot, you think a lot, and you’re pretty tired right now,” Lundqvist continued. “So going into this break, it’s the perfect time for us to kind of get away from it a little bit and try to come back energized to get going.”
Lundqvist’s frame of mind is the key to the Rangers (20-12-4, 44 points) having any chance at turning this around, given the coverage, puck management and confidence issues of the team in front of him. But the franchise goaltender also reached a possible career-low Sunday night when Alain Vigneault yanked him during a 7-3 loss to Washington in favor of rookie Magnus Hellberg’s second-ever NHL appearance.
While Lundqvist bounced back to beat Anaheim with 17 saves on Tuesday night, Rakell’s goal was a painful reminder that even in victory over a bad team the Blueshirts’ savior in goal has been worrisomely mortal. Remember, in his five previous starts, Lundqvist had been benched twice, with a record of 1-3-0 and one no-decision, surrendering 18 goals on 137 shots against for a startling .868 save percentage.
At the moment, though, he still stands at 16-9-3 with a 2.41 goals against average and .924 save percentage, and the Blueshirts own second place in the Metropolitan Division, trailing Washington (52) by eight points with the Islanders (43 points) and New Jersey Devils (39 points) below them but a little too close for comfort.
“You get the most confidence by winning, finding a way to win games,” Lundqvist said of beating the Ducks to snap a three-game losing streak. “I think it’s a good feeling now going into the break, at least taking care of business in the last game. We’re all very disappointed with the way things have been going the last three weeks, but it’s been so many games we haven’t had time to sit down. I think now we have a few days to get away from the game and come back energized and ready to go.”
Marc Staal said the Rangers’ “compete level in our one-on-one battles was much better” and “was a big reason why we won the game.” Forward J.T. Miller was once again one of the Blueshirts’ hardest working, most effective contributors in that area. Rick Nash even refreshingly showed strength with the puck on his stick during a few shifts.
The schedule won’t be kind to the Rangers when they return from break. They’ll go right back on the road to visit the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning and then the Florida Panthers in their first game of the New Year. Then they’ll come back home for a gut-check homestand featuring tests against the blistering Dallas Stars, the formidable Capitals and the Boston Bruins, followed by a second trip to Brooklyn.
Fortunately it sounds like injured defensemen Dan Girardi (right knee) and Kevin Klein (strained oblique) should be back on Monday night in Nashville, and even injured backup goalie Antti Raanta (likely concussion) was seen outside Tuesday’s locker room and could be close to a return.
The Rangers aren’t foolish enough to think one win has solved everything, but they sounded Tuesday like they are truly done feeling sorry for themselves and that the only way to keep winning is to believe it’s possible.
“In any sport there are a lot of teams that go through struggles,” center Derick Brassard said. “We’re not the only team (struggling) in the league, in hockey. We’re trying to stay positive. We’re trying to find solutions. We just have to compete and the rest will take care of itself.”
Or rather, Lundqvist will take care of the rest. He’ll have to. Or else.
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