NEW YORK -- With Brandon Prust out of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals due to a one-game suspension, the Rangers will likely turn to a defenseman to fill the vacated spot at forward.
Stu Bickel, who played four games as a forward in February with the Rangers battling injuries, was dressed as a forward during the Rangers' morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Bickel was a healthy scratch for Game 3, but is ready to make the adjustment to forward to replace Prust.
Bickel wouldn't reveal for sure if he was in the lineup, but said there was a small adjustment to playing as a fourth-line forward.
"I don't know what's going on as far as tonight goes," Bickel said. "It's still the same game. We all know the systems and everything like that. I don't think it was too tough. It maybe took me a couple shifts. I don't remember that far back exactly how it went. I don't think it was too bad."
Forward Brandon Dubinsky practiced for the third time in four days (the Rangers did not have a practice or morning skate before Game 3) but stayed on the ice long after Bickel went to the locker room and will not play in Game 4. Dubinsky's presence would've given the Rangers more flexibility on the penalty kill, a role Prust has played all season but Bickel has not.
With Dubinsky out of the lineup since Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, the Rangers have sprinkled the shorthanded ice time among forwards between five main guys -- Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. Dubinsky has played a major role on the PK all season, but his absence leaves the Rangers with just four steady penalty-killing forwards.
The next-busiest penalty-killing forwards after that group of six during the postseason are Brad Richards (20 seconds per game) and Artem Anisimov (19 seconds per game). Should the Rangers find themselves in a lot of shorthanded situations against the Devils, they will likely have to call on their depth to help kill the penalties.
The Rangers found a way to get by during the conference quarterfinals with Carl Hagelin lost for three games due to a suspension, as rookie Chris Kreider filled the opening and is now the Rangers' second-leading goal scorer in the playoffs with five.
With Prust out, someone else will need to step up for one game.
"He's a big guy for us. He plays in a lot of key situations," Callahan said of Prust. "He's a guy who brings energy to us. It's an opportunity for someone to step up and step in. You saw earlier in the playoffs when we lost a guy like Hags and Kreids steps in and he plays big. It's an opportunity for somebody and somebody has to grab a hold of it."
The Rangers did not hold a full practice and therefore did not reveal any potential line combinations. But if Bickel replaces Prust, here's what the lineup could potentially look like against the Devils as the Rangers look to extend their lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-1.
What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.
— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp