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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Less Lundqvist Now, Could Mean More Later

Will seeing less of Henrik Lundqvist mean seeing more of the New York Rangers in the playoffs?

In theory, it works, given Lundqvist has played four straight seasons of 70-plus games, but went just two rounds after that and his club didn’t even make it last spring. He played the first four this season (1-2-1) before giving way to the newly signed Martin Biron on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre against the Leafs.

“He needs to get in,” Rangers‚ coach John Tortorella said with a shrug. “We have a plan with Biron in terms of making sure he gets his time. We have to be really careful not get away from that plan when you get into a little bit of adversity.

“Sometimes, when you have Hank you want to come back with him. But this gives Hank a chance to work out and work on his game for four or five days. This is the game for Biron.”

Big workloads had mixed results for some NHL goalies when last April rolled around. Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov and Miikka Kiprusoff were all over 4,000 minutes but they either didn’t make playoffs or weren’t able to get their teams past Round 1. Evgeni Nabokov lasted until the Western Conference final, while relative newcomers Jonathan Quick and Craig Anderson won playoff berths for hitherto lightly regarded Los Angeles and Colorado, respectively.

And the final four Stanley Cup goalies included Jaroslav Halak, Michael Leighton and eventual champion Antti Niemi, all playing half seasons. Lundqvist needed no arm twisting in the summer when he heard that the 33-year-old Biron was coming down the Long Island Expressway to relieve him after a half year with the Isles.

“Playing 72 games is perfect for regular season, but if you want to play until June, you have to play less,” Lundqvist said in the summer.

Thursday night’s start was Biron’s first in a real game since early last April.

“I’ve been looking forward to this game since training camp ended,” Biron told a crowd of reporters from both cities on Thursday morning. “I’ve been playing close attention to what we’ve been doing and what other teams are doing. I’ve been working really hard in practice.”

With Biron making one start for every four of Lundqvist’s, the split should work out around 62-20 for the Swede. It could be more, depending on back-to-backs, though the lax travel schedule of the Rangers does not put too much stress on goalies who play on consecutive nights.

The other reason last night’s switch made sense was the apparent hex the Leafs have on Lundqvist. Toronto-New York games have been high scoring of late and Lundqvist’s .899 save percentage against the Leafs contrasts to Biron’s .912, much of that when he played for the Buffalo Sabres.

“I’ve played them in blue, I’ve played them in white, I’ve played them in green, (when) they had a St. Patrick’s Day jersey,” Biron said of facing the Leafs for the 26th time in his career.

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