Thanks to backup goaltender Cam Talbot, it has been in a positive way. With Talbot starting 18 of 20 games, the Rangers have earned 33 of 40 possible points to shoot into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
"You never really think that you're going to go a big run like this," Talbot said Saturday in Buffalo. "Everyone in this room stepped up. When you lose one of the best goalies in the world, everyone else has to kind of pick up their game because he's a big piece of this team. Myself included I had to really step up and try to fill those shoes because it's not easy to do."
Talbot is 13-3-3 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .927 save percentage since becoming the de facto starter in Lundqvist's absence. His consistent success is thanks in large part to a film session with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire last month.
"Benny and I took a look at some of the game film where I wasn't playing as well as I wanted to play, but luckily we were still winning," Talbot said. "He's like, 'If you can just make little tweaks here and there, you should be able to cut down a goal or two a game.'
"Ever since we went over that video, I've been better positionally, it helps you be a little bit more patient, and when you're stopping the first shot a lot more, it makes you a lot more confident."
The 27-year-old Talbot is one of three improbable goaltending stories influencing the NHL playoff race right now. Devan Dubnyk has almost single-handedly saved the Minnesota Wild's season, and Andrew Hammond has the Ottawa Senators at least able to dream of the playoffs.
This run for Talbot is reminiscent of when he was just as hot as Hammond when he debuted in the league. He allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his first 10 starts before opposing shooters could get a book on him.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "You don't get too many opportunities to break into the league like that. If you can make the most of it, it's really beneficial for you moving forward."
Talbot believes he's a better goaltender now, 46 starts into his NHL career. He's more patient and mature than he was as a rookie.
Lundqvist was cleared Tuesday to resume practising with the team. Coach Alain Vigneault has said Lundqvist will be the starter when he returns, but it hasn't hurt to give Talbot a taste of full-time work.
"I'm growing into the position a little bit more," Talbot said. "It's been a lot of fun to be able to string together some starts here and get to know what it's like for a starting goalie's workload."
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