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As the team announced this past Saturday, Henrik Lundqvist is expected to miss two-to-three weeks while he recovers from a muscle strain in his hip.
OFFICIAL: #NYR Henrik Lundqvist will be out 2-3 weeks with a lower body injury.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 11, 2017
Though he finished the game, it’s believed the netminder suffered the strain during the first period of the Rangers 5-2 win over the Panthers last Tuesday.
“My body was going one way, leg the other way and I had an impact on my hip,” said Lundqvist, who was adamant he didn’t worsen the injury by continuing to play Tuesday night. “So we’ll take some time here to get some treatment and heal.”
While Lundqvist and the team both balked at providing an exact return date, the March 25th game at the L.A. Kings was mentioned as a possible target.
“We’ll see if that’s a good time,” Lundqvist said of the trip to L.A. “But we’ll just have to wait and see.”
That game would mark exactly two weeks from the day the Rangers announced his injury and fall within the third week of the projected recovery period.
While the recovery promises to sideline the Rangers franchise starter for a fairly significant stretch, the timing really couldn’t have been better.
The First Wild Card is Still the Target
With 90 points, the Rangers are currently sitting pretty in the first wild card, an ideal position to hold, with a 14-point lead over the second wild card club, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Separated by a single point, the Leafs, with 76 points, are embroiled in a three-way battle with the New York Islanders (75 points) and Tampa Bay Lightning (75 points) for hold over that final playoff position in the East.
Ahead of them lies the rough and tumble Metropolitan division, lead by the Washington Capitals with 95 points. The Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (94 points) trail not far behind.
Ray Sarlo has already written extensively about the benefits of finishing in the first wild card spot, and that strategy is still sound. Maintaining this position would all but assure the Rangers avoid the Capitals, Penguins, or Blue Jackets in either the first or second rounds of the playoffs, instead, taking on the weaker Atlantic Division clubs set to make the postseason.
A Blessing in Disguise?
With Lundqvist sidelined for at least the next two weeks, not only can the Rangers afford to lose games in that stretch, but they might actually be wise to. It’s not quite tanking, but a “win one, lose one” strategy is actually a good one to hold while the King recovers. It would allow the Rangers to bank on the 14-point lead they have over the Leafs while simultaneously keeping them from foolishly leapfrogging the Blue Jackets, Penguins, or Capitals for control of the Metropolitan division.
In short, a .500 record between this past Saturday and whatever game Lundqvist returns for would allow the Rangers to tread water and maintain optimal playoff position with the King expected to return just in time to reclaim his crown as the Rangers enter the first round of the postseason.
Whether it’s March 25th against the Kings, or even as far out as April 2nd against the Flyers, any realistic return date for Lundqvist should align well within the final two weeks of the regular season. This should give the Rangers a leg up advantage over that span. Not only will it guarantee that Lundqvist, who recently turned 35, will be well-rested for the stretch run to the postseason, but it will also keep Antti Raanta sharp in the event of future injury or performance issues.