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Early injury scare a bit jarring, but Lundqvist is not afraid

4/9/2015

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist isn't scared.

That's hardly news, of course, but it is newly relevant after what happened -- and what nearly happened -- Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Early in an otherwise meaningless (for the New York Rangers) 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, Lundqvist was writhing in pain on the ice after Mika Zibanejad fell on his left knee.

At first, even Lundqvist wasn't sure he was all right. You can imagine how everyone else connected with the Rangers felt.

It turned out Lundqvist wasn't hurt. It turned out he made it through this next-to-last playoff tune-up healthy.

And it turns out that even after a close brush with injury, he wants to play again Saturday, when the Rangers close out the regular season with another meaningless game.

He's not scared, and he'll have you believe that these games aren't meaningless.

Not for him, anyway.

"I want to play," he said. "For every game, I just get that much more comfortable. Obviously, we don't have that much to play for right now. Now it's up to every player to prepare themselves for next week. To do that, you need to play a solid game and work on the things you need to get better.

"I see that as another opportunity to work on my game."

Lundqvist, of course, missed seven weeks of the season after he was hit in the neck and suffered a serious injury to a blood vessel. He has looked playoff-ready in recent games (including Thursday), but it's in his nature to always want to work to improve.

It's not in his nature to worry about getting hurt, and in this case, his coach is onboard.

"The plan all along has been to give him these games," Alain Vigneault said. "He wants to play."

The Rangers played Thursday's game without three regulars (Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal), officially because they were day-to-day with injuries, but just as much because the team has already clinched the Presidents' Trophy and there was no reason to risk anything.

While the Rangers didn't try to lose Thursday -- they actually had marginally the better chances before the Senators scored their first goal at 17:31 of the second period -- they definitely didn't have the same intensity they showed in recent games as they pushed to clinch the league's best record.

No one could really blame them, not even the other teams battling with Ottawa for the final playoff spots in the East. Thursday's win pushed the Senators past the Boston Bruins, but the fight will go down to the final games of the season on Saturday.

The Rangers have an interest in that fight, but only in that they'll play whichever team finishes in the eighth and final spot. That could be Ottawa, but it could also still be Boston, Pittsburgh or Detroit.

No matter the Rangers' opponent, though, their biggest interest is in going into the playoffs healthy and prepared. They want their best players playing well, but more than that, they need their best players playing.

They didn't need to see Lundqvist in pain 14 minutes into Thursday's game.

Zibanejad was set up in front of the net, battling with Rangers defenseman Chris Summers as Mike Hoffman prepared to shoot. Lundqvist saw him but couldn't do anything as Zibanejad fell on him just as Hoffman's shot was going in the net.

The officials waved off the goal, but Lundqvist's health was a much larger Rangers concern.

"He just landed right on top of me," Lundqvist said. "The first few seconds, you try to figure out what is going on. I've had that happen before, where you get your leg extended, and it's pretty painful for a while."

Lundqvist said the pain soon went away. Vigneault said his concern soon went away, too.

Lundqvist wondered if the leg would tighten up during the intermission, but he said it didn't. He said that since he didn't have any trouble with the leg the rest of the game, he didn't even plan to see the Rangers' medical staff about it Thursday night.

He also wasn't concerned about a third-period play in which he was hit in the helmet by teammate Dan Boyle's knee. The two straps of Lundqvist's mask broke on the play, but his head was fine.

He's fine, he assured anyone who asked. He's fine, and he plans to play Saturday.

No, he's not scared.