Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist tells the team he is ready to jump between the pipes Saturday.
DETROIT – The Rangers got a royal return Friday: a healthy King, a hopeful Rick Nash and an encouraged Marc Staal.
Franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist said he will start Saturday’s 2 p.m. road test in Detroit after missing three games with neck spasms, while Nash (left leg bone bruise) hopes to play after a 20-game absence and Staal (back spasms) intends to dress following two straight missed matches.
“I told him I’m ready,” Lundqvist said of Friday’s pre-practice nod to coach Alain Vigneault in Greenburgh. “I want to get back out there and try to help the team win. Today was important for me to get a practice with 2-on-1s and situations with a lot of speed coming to the net. I feel like I’m in good shape. Now it’s just about getting the timing back and trusting my instincts.”
Nash (6-4, 220 pounds) spent his first full practice on left wing of an exciting, imposing line featuring deadline acquisition Eric Staal (6-4, 205 pounds) at center and Viktor Stalberg (6-3, 209 pounds) at right wing. Nash and Staal developed together at various levels playing for Team Canada. Now, they could be linemates when Nash plays for the first time since he was hurt Jan. 22 at Carolina against Staal’s then-Hurricanes club.
“It’s been a long time,” Eric Staal said of playing with Nash, who was “happy with the progress.”
“It’s crazy how fast time goes. We were fortunate to kind of grow up together through junior hockey and some of those Team Canada teams. Nasher’s always been a great player, a power forward that can score goals.”
Vigneault is removing Oscar Lindberg from that line, messing with a clear connection he and Stalberg have developed. Stalberg, though, has experience complementing star players: He started 15 games to open his first full NHL season in 2010-11 with the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and took occasional turns with Chicago’s top forwards in playoff series, too.
“I’m excited to play with them if that’s how it’s gonna be,” Stalberg said. “Looking back the last 10 years, they’re two of the best guys in the league.”
Rick Nash, hurt vs. Hurricanes on Jan. 22, could also return to action vs. the Red Wings.
Vigneault had juggling to do anyway because center Derick Brassard (flu) sat out practice and was not flying on the team charter to Detroit. He is the fifth Rangers player to catch the flu in the past three weeks including Dan Boyle, Marek Hrivik, Jesper Fast and Marc Staal, respectively.
The coach said Brassard could join the Rangers via commercial flight either Friday night or Saturday morning, but there is also a chance he might stay home in New York with the Blueshirts hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Garden.
Brassard has mentioned multiple times that his line is drawing challenging matchups, but that’s exactly why Vigneault is putting Nash and Eric Staal together: It could force opposing coaches to pick their poison.
“That might be an area where we can make it a little bit more challenging for the opposition as far as what they want to play, their top D pair and top lines, so it’s something worth trying at this time,” Vigneault said.
Jesper Fast continues to deal with a lower-body injury, but Vigneault said at this time he was not considering resting his three-tool winger prior to the playoffs because the ailment is not believed to be serious.
“I think the injury is something that he can play through at this time, what my medical staff is saying, in that it should heal up in due time,” Vigneault said. “So I don’t think it’s anything severe.”
The Rangers (39-22-6, 84 points) will need “all men on board,” as the coach said, as they open a stretch of five games in eight days against the Red Wings (33-23-11, 77 points). They will play their next seven games against playoff teams, including next week’s three-game, six-day trip through California.