By Sean Hartnett
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It’s only taken Henrik Lundqvist four games to shake off the rust following his return from a scary vascular injury that forced him to miss 25 consecutive games.
Lundqvist has caught fire of late, saving 108 of 114 shots since surrendering three goals in the first period of his comeback game against the Boston Bruins on Mar. 28.
“The first game I played when I came back, that was tough, just to be comfortable with everything,” Lundqvist said. “I was analyzing way too much instead of just playing. But I expected that being gone from the game for two months. After that I felt a lot more comfortable and technically played a little bit better as well.
“I feel like I’m close to where I want to be and need to be moving forward. I try to work on my game every period I play here and I feel better and better. So it’s a lot of fun to feel that progress. I wasn’t sure when I was coming back. I knew I worked extremely hard and I felt physically I was in shape. Benny (Benoit Allaire) kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be fine. Just relax and play your game.’ And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Over the past two games, Lundqvist has looked extremely sharp between the pipes and appears to be rounding into playoff form. He was his acrobatic best on Saturday night, making 35 saves and nearly snatching a shutout in the Rangers’ 6-1 victory over the rival Devils.
Lundqvist’s reactions are once again razor-sharp. The 33-year-old netminder was able to make quick flurries of saves throughout Saturday’s victory. His positioning was sound and he communicated confidently with teammates.
He was asked whether he would be ready to go if the playoffs began today.
“Yes, I think so,” Lundqvist said in response.
Lundqvist’s shutout bid ended at 16:30 of the third period. Even though the Rangers had an unassailable 6-1 lead with 3:30 remaining, Lundqvist appeared visibly upset.
That’s the thing with King Henrik. He simply hates getting beat. Throughout his 10-year career, Lundqvist has always been a perfectionist. He is obsessed with small details and constantly strives to improve his game.
“Each period I try to work on my game and there is always something you can do better, but I feel like I am getting close to where I want to be,” Lundqvist said.
After the Devils scored, the Garden crowd suddenly roared to life to salute Lundqvist with a standing ovation and chants of “Hen-rik, Hen-rik.”
“I was really excited to play in front of our fans here, and to get that support, too, means a lot,” Lundqvist said. “When they scored that goal that was a really nice moment for me.”
Captain Ryan McDonagh believes Lundqvist is “back to normal.”
“He looks like himself,” McDonagh said. “He’s talking like himself out there. He’s carrying himself like he’s back to normal. It’s a good sign for us, for sure. Obviously, you know his preparation and focus; he’s trying to get back as soon as possible. He made some great saves on the penalty kill and 5-on-5. He knows that there’s still probably some work left to do, and for us it’s the same as the group in front of him.”
The Rangers will face the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. Monday at Madison Square Garden. It’s probable that backup Cam Talbot will start one of the Rangers’ four remaining games, likely Tuesday’s rematch with the Devils at Prudential Center.
Between now and the end of the regular season, Lundqvist will be pushing to find his absolute best. He looks very close to the Lundqvist that carried the Blueshirts to last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
KLEIN EDGING CLOSER TO RETURN
After Saturday’s morning skate, head coach Alain Vigneault revealed that injured defenseman Kevin Klein has begun skating on his own. It’s very possible that the 30-year-old defenseman could return to game action before the playoffs begin.
Klein has missed 12 consecutive games since breaking his left arm on Mar. 11 when he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. He will have X-rays taken this week.
Vigneault said that Klein has not been medically cleared to stick-handle, but could begin stick-handling this week.
“Other than stick-handling right now, which he can’t do — which he should be able to do in the next couple days — I don’t see this being a major thing,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault expects Klein to play soon.
“We’ll know once he takes his next X-rays and the doctors tell us if they’re comfortable with where he’s at,” Vigneault said. “If the docs say he’s cleared and he can, he will play. But if they say he’d be better taking a couple of extra days, then we’re not going to hesitate to do that.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.