LOS ANGELES — If it felt like a long time since Henrik Lundqvist started a game for the Rangers, that’s because it was.
The Blueshirts veteran netminder had not played in eight days, and had only two starts since Thanksgiving. But after dealing with a minor back issue over the past week while understudy Alex Georgiev had been outstanding, Lundqvist returned to make 23 saves in a 3-1 loss to the Kings here on Tuesday night.
“I felt OK,” Lundqvist said. “As the game went on, second and third, felt better and better. But we also played really well. We played a team that unfortunately got the lead then shut it down a little bit. A different type of game.”
Lundqvist was supposed to play this past Friday at home against the Canadiens, but was held out partially due to the injury and partially because Georgiev had been on a roll. Lundqvist did play in the 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights at the Garden on Dec. 2, but then watched as Georgiev was outstanding in Columbus on Dec. 5, stellar against the Canadiens, and then posted a 38-save shutout in Las Vegas on Sunday to start this road trip.
Knowing he needs to play well to earn the starts, Lundqvist was sharp early but allowed a goal to Dustin Brown with 10.1 seconds remaining in the first period. He then couldn’t catch a shot from Matt Roy late in the second period, the puck rolling down his back before it was knocked over the goal line by Tyler Toffoli for a 2-0 lead.
“It was just a late reaction, I picked it up late,” Lundqvist said.
Coach David Quinn juggled his lines going into the third period, moving Ryan Strome off the wing and back to the middle, next to Artemi Panarin, where he played for most of the past month.
“I think [Strome] is probably a little bit better in the middle, but he also has the ability to play the wing,” Quinn said before the game. “With our situation, he’s going to probably be someone that is going back and forth.”
Strome had played the wing during the 5-0 win in Las Vegas on Sunday, next to Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil. But with the Rangers needing offense down 2-0 in the third period, Quinn went back to the Strome-Panarin combo, with Pavel Buchnevich on the right.
Chytil moved out to the left wing, with Brett Howden and Brendan Lemieux. Kreider went to play with Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko.
The Rangers took the league lead in fights (14) by getting into two — Brady Skjei going with Austin Wagner in the second period, followed by Brendan Smith catching the worst of his scrap with Kurtis MacDermid in the third.
The lineup was the same as Sunday, with Micheal Haley as the lone healthy scratch.
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