The New York Rangers' first game without Henrik Lundqvist was a pleasant surprise against the top team in hockey. The second might have had them saying enough is enough.
There's at least one more game separating their No. 1 goaltender from a return, and it's Tuesday night in Buffalo against a Sabres team seeking its first five-game point streak in nearly four years.
Lundqvist is expected to return from a neck injury this weekend - either Saturday in Detroit or Sunday at home against Pittsburgh - while Rick Nash is also nearing a return. He'll miss his 20th consecutive game with a bone bruise in his leg, but he's finally returned to practice on a no-contact basis.
"He is progressing very well," coach Alain Vigneault told the team's official website of Nash. "He was week to week, now he's day to day. He's got to get a couple practices in, get some contact, with the team. I do know that it looks very positive at this point."
They'll also be short at the blueline with Marc Staal out for a second straight game because of back spasms, and Dylan McIlrath will also skip the trip due to a knee injury.
McIlrath was injured in Sunday's 6-4 home loss to the New York Islanders as the Rangers (38-22-6) fell behind 3-0 in the opening five minutes. It followed Friday's 3-2 win in Washington. Regardless of personnel, all of their losses over a 7-4-1 span have come with the Rangers giving up at least four goals.
Nevertheless, they tied it midway through the third period before allowing a pair in the final minute and a half as the Islanders got within three points of the second-place Rangers with three games in hand.
"I'm not sure to be honest with you," Derek Stepan said of the Rangers' slow start. "Maybe the three (games) in four nights, but that's no excuse. I thought we really responded well after being down 3-0."
Antti Raanta figures to be back in goal having posted a 3.15 goals-against average over a 3-2-1 span as a starter.
The Rangers won the first meeting 6-3 at home on Jan. 25 - Nash's second game out of the lineup - and Derick Brassard picked up the slack with two goals and three assists. The center has four goals and eight assists in the last seven games in the series as part of eight straight Rangers' wins by a combined score of 32-11.
Buffalo (27-31-9) came from two goals down for Monday's 4-3 shootout win in Toronto, giving the Sabres at least a point in four straight games. They haven't made it five since a nine-game point streak in March 2012.
Evander Kane had a goal and an assist, and 11 of his 18 goals have come in the last 22 games. Jack Eichel has scored in three straight to reach 20 goals, making him the first Sabres rookie to reach that mark since Tyler Ennis in 2010-11.
"You're down two goals going into the third period. You get one back in the second, you're able to break the goalie and then they're able to get one and regain that two-goal lead," said Eichel, whose team had lost six straight overtime or shootout games.
"It's really big for us to be resilient in that third and play a simple game, be able to get two goals and force overtime and a shootout and see what happens. It's nice to win a shootout."
Chad Johnson faced the Maple Leafs, so Robin Lehner could be in goal. Over a 3-3-3 span, he's posted a 1.75 GAA.