<
>

Henrik Lundqvist not forcing return

NEW YORK -- As eager as he is to return to playing goal for the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist said Wednesday that he agrees he'll need at least a week of practice before he's ready to play in a game.

"I want to take the first week and skate with the guys and get more speed, and then we'll take it from there," said Lundqvist, who hasn't played since Feb. 2 because of a blood vessel in his neck that was damaged when he was hit by a shot. "I don't want to rush back."

Lundqvist was cleared by doctors Tuesday to resume practicing with the team, and was scheduled to join the team for his first full practice on Friday. But with his wife Therese about to deliver the couple's second child, Lundqvist missed Friday's practice. He'll join the Rangers for a morning skate before next Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings, and is now scheduled for his first full practice next Wednesday.

The Rangers have 13 regular-season games remaining after Wednesday night's game with the Chicago Blackhawks. But Lundqvist said he believes he's facing no time crunch to be ready for the playoffs.

"It's not like starting over," he said. "I just want to play games because I miss it so much. I think about that more than getting ready for the playoffs. I know it will be enough games."

Lundqvist said doctors told him that the blood vessel has fully healed, and that he had made great progress over the last two weeks. He said the entire rehabilitation process has gone almost exactly the way the doctors predicted in the days after the injury.

The Rangers have gone 15-2-3 in the 20 games since Lundqvist last played, and backup Cam Talbot has been outstanding. Lundqvist said the play of Talbot and the entire team has made it easier for him not to think about rushing back.

"I'm not going to force it," he said. "It's not about me. It's about what's best for the team. I want to make sure when I go out there, I feel ready and I can make a difference and help the team. Before that, it's better for everybody if I just stay in practice."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Lundqvist won't require any further medical clearance before he plays in a game. Vigneault also said he's not worried about getting Lundqvist enough game action before the playoffs.

"I think if he plays two, three, four, five games, he'll be fine," Vigneault said. "In training camp, it only takes him a couple, and he's good to go. Yes, he's been out, but he's been active. So I don't expect this to be a long time for him to tell me he's good to go."