The King has returned.
For the first time since Feb. 2, Henrik Lundqvist dressed and took shots during the Rangers morning skate at Madison Square Garden Tuesday morning in preparation for that night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Kings.
“It felt really good. It’s been a long wait for me to get out there. A lot of fun for me to see the guys, get out on the ice, and work on my game,” Lundqvist told reporters. “Some guys were a little scared.They said, ‘I’m not going high today.’ But I’m fine. They can go high and hard. I’m not worried about it. For each practice I feel more and more comfortable. The first practice I had last week with just a couple coaches shooting was a little uncomfortable at first. For each day that goes by you get more and more comfortable with the high shots and with the speed. I feel like I’m pretty close to be ready.
“I just wanted to work really hard and get extremely tired. That was accomplished.”
Lundqvist suffered a strained blood vessel after being struck in the throat by a shot off the stick of Carolina Hurricanes center Brad Malone on Jan. 31. Lundqvist played in the Rangers’ following game, Feb. 2 against Florida before being shut down by the team on Feb. 6.
Without their franchise goaltender, the Rangers have compiled a 17-4-3 mark to find themselves second in Eastern Conference. Reserve Cam Talbot has started all but two of the games in the stretch, while American Hockey League call-up Mackenzie Skapsietwice defeated Buffalo.
The Rangers announced Wednesday that Skapski was sent down to the Hartford Wolfpack, the team’s AHL affiliate.
“It’s been fun to watch the way we’ve been playing,” Lundqvist said. “Obviously this is an important time of the year, so now we really need to work on every little detail and improve as much as we can. When the playoffs start, it’s going to be a very interesting and fun race. It’s been fun to watch, I’m just excited to be back here and try to be a part of that as well.”
Lundqvist did not play against the Kings, but did sit on the bench Thursday night in Ottawa. He told reporters Tuesday that he wants to play either Saturday afternoon in Boston or Sunday afternoon at the Garden against Detroit.
“I think I need at least one more or two more skates, just to work on my timing,” Lundqvist said. “I feel close. If you ask me, I wanted to play last week, right away when they cleared me. But you have to be realistic about it, too.
“Physically I feel pretty close. I don’t get too tired, I feel like my speed is there and my legs are there. It’s more just mentally being comfortable with everything. Playing in goal, the biggest part is the mental aspect, to have your focus right and to see the game the right way.
“It’s a really good feeling to be back on the ice with the guys. Even though it’s a few days away until I play, it’s definitely a good feeling to see everyone and be a part of it. I’ve been on my own schedule for seven or eight weeks. Every player, when you’re injured and doing your own thing for that long, it feels wrong. You play a team sport, you want to be part of the group. That’s a big part of why it’s so much fun to be back.”