Rangers get primed along with Lundqvist

NEW YORK -- The numbers look great, and the New York Rangers added to them again in a 6-1 rout of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

The Rangers have 50 wins now, for only the fourth time in franchise history. They have 107 points, which puts them atop the overall NHL standings and makes it almost inevitable that they'll top the Eastern Conference and probably the entire league. Rick Nash has 42 goals, the most he has ever had in a season.

It's all nice, but in another week it's worth nothing more than the guarantee of playing Game 7s at home.

"The big challenge is still ahead," Henrik Lundqvist said.

Yes, it is, and that's why the biggest development of this past week has no number attached to it. You don't need a number to tell you Lundqvist has already shaken off the rust from his six-week injury layoff.

The playoffs don't begin for nearly two weeks, but if they began today, the Rangers' franchise goaltender would be ready.

"Yeah, I think so," Lundqvist said, after stopping 35 shots and coming within 3½ minutes of his first shutout since December.

When Lundqvist returned on March 28 in Boston, the Rangers had only nine regular-season games left. While the Rangers thought that would be enough, no one could know for sure.

Lundqvist wasn't sure.

"I knew I worked extremely hard, and I felt physically I was in shape," he said. "[Goaltending coach 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."

The first game back, it felt like training camp. The second game back was better. The two games since then have been the Lundqvist the Rangers expect to see -- and need to see when the playoffs begin.

"The last two games, he's been real sharp," Derek Stepan said.

He had to be sharp at times Saturday, even if the final score doesn't suggest it. The Devils outshot the Rangers 13-8 in the first period and 36-32 for the game, and when it was still a game, the Rangers had to count on their goalie. It was even a challenge later on, with the outcome no longer in doubt, because the Devils were simply firing pucks from everywhere.

Asked if Lundqvist has gotten the rust off, coach Alain Vigneault grinned and said, "I think we're doing our part to get it off him."

Vigneault wouldn't say how many of the remaining four games Lundqvist will play, just that he'll start again Monday against Columbus. But it seems there's no longer any question about how many games he needs to start to get ready for the playoffs.

The Rangers look like a team ready for the playoffs, although they can use the coming week to get defenseman Kevin Klein back from his injury. But Vigneault seems to have settled on lines that work.

Three of the four lines contributed goals Saturday, with fourth-line center Dominic Moore contributing two goals. Defenseman Keith Yandle, acquired at the trading deadline, had a goal and an assist and ended up with the team's Broadway Hat.

Yandle, who played his first eight NHL seasons in Arizona, was even more impressed with how the Madison Square Garden fans responded when Tuomo Ruutu ended Lundqvist's shutout bid with a tipped shot at 16:30 of the third.

"Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" the fans chanted loudly, in appreciation of Lundqvist's effort in his first home game since Feb. 2.

"It's a good thing we play in a market like this, where people know their hockey," Yandle said. "They know the effort he put in."

They also know that in two weeks, when the playoffs begin and the games really count, the Rangers won't be playing teams like the Devils and likely won't have 6-0 leads. They'll need Lundqvist to be at his best.

He might be there already.