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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After receiving a scare on Friday night at Madison Square Garden when Henrik Lundqvist suffered a neck injury in a collision with Montreal’s Benoit Pouliot, the Rangers were able to exhale a bit on Saturday when their star goaltender reported that his neck was stiff, but feeling better.
Whether or not Lundqvist will be able to make his 17th consecutive start between the pipes this afternoon when the Rangers face the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center still remains to be seen, however.
“The scary part for me was that I never saw it coming and my head was exposed,” said Lundqvist of the collision that occurred with three minutes to play in the third period of Friday night’s 6-3 win over the Canadiens. “I’m glad that it was nothing serious. My neck is still stiff and I’m having a tough time moving my head, but as long as I know it’s just pain and not anything that could get worse, that’s a good thing.”
The frightening collision, in which Pouliot was penalized for goaltender interference after skating hard to the net while in battle with Rangers’ defenseman Steve Eminger, silenced the raucous MSG crowd as team trainer Jim Ramsay tended to the prone Lundqvist for several minutes.
For a team that has survived a myriad of injuries to key performers like Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Chris Drury, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi -- to name just a few -- already this season, the prospect of losing the indispensible Lundqvist with 10 games remaining in the regular season was beyond jarring.
“I’m feeling better and I received some good treatment,” Lundqvist reported following Saturday’s practice, in which he did not take part. “I’m just trying to get ready for (Sunday). My goal is to play and then we’ll see in the morning.”
With veteran backup goalie Martin Biron still sidelined indefinitely with a fractured collarbone, the less-experienced Chad Johnson would start in goal today if Lundqvist is unable to go. In his first professional season a year ago, Johnson, 24, appeared in five games for the Rangers and posted a 1-2-1 record to go along with a very respectable 2.34 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
“Obviously with Hank we’re not sure where he’s at, so for me I’m just preparing as if I’m going to be playing,” said Johnson, who was 16-19-3 with a 2.72 goals against and .901 save percentage with two shutouts in 40 games with the Connecticut Whale this season. “That’s my mindset going in, and if they tell me something different than I’ll prepare more as the backup.”
The fact that he did play in a handful of games at the NHL level last year, and had success, gives Johnson confidence should he be called on today, or in any other game down the stretch, even with the Rangers fighting tooth and nail each day to secure a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“That helps a lot because I can look back on some video and see what I did well up here and take everything I can from the games that I had and use that experience,” said Johnson. “That will help me prepare myself for (Sunday).”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella said on Saturday that he and the team will remain confident no matter who is in goal on Sunday afternoon. The Rangers have played extremely well of late, winning three straight and five of six overall. And they currently sit in seventh place with 80 points.
Tortorella believes that Johnson can do the job if Lundqvist is out, and that Lundqvist will put forth a big effort should he be able to play.
“You don’t want to see it because a goaltender on any team is the most important ingredient,” said Tortorella. “It was a hard hit, but you figured (Lundqvist) was going to be OK. And Chad has played some games for us, has been sharp in practice. It is what it is. If Hank cannot go (Sunday) then Johnny goes in and we play. There’s no doom and gloom here. We just go and play.”
Like the Rangers, Pittsburgh knows a thing or two about succeeding this season despite a rash of injuries to important players on its roster. In fact, the Penguins are just four points out of the top spot in the East despite playing for quite some time without their two superstars -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
No matter who suits up on either side today, the Rangers are aware that they are in for a tightly contested game in Pittsburgh this afternoon.
“Pittsburgh is obviously a really good team even though they’re missing a lot of their top players,” said Johnson. “They’re still really skilled and well coached. It’s going to be a tough game (Sunday) for sure.”
Following today’s contest the Rangers return home where they have won their last three games at The Garden. The Blueshirts will host the Panthers on Tuesday and the Senators on Thursday before traveling up to Boston for a tilt Saturday with the Bruins.
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