NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wouldn't definitely declare that center Derick Brassard would return from an upper-body injury that has kept him out of the past two games of the Eastern Conference Final. But he wasn't subtle when he hinted that Brassard would be back in the lineup for Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.
"I'd say right now he's a game-time decision," Vigneault said of Brassard after New York's morning skate. "And looking good if I was a betting man."
Brassard's return to the Rangers lineup would be particularly timely, considering top center Derek Stepan will not play and is out indefinitely after having surgery on his broken jaw sustained on a hit by Brandon Prust during Game 3. Vigneault revealed that Stepan stopped by the Garden to say hello to his teammates Sunday before returning home. No update was given regarding his return.
Prust was suspended two games by the NHL for the hit.
Brassard's return reunites him with wings Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot. The trio has been the Rangers' most consistent since December and was an offensive force in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, combining for six goals and 13 points in the seven-game series.
That line with Brassard could take on considerable responsibility with New York's forward depth being tested by Stepan's injury and the automatic 10-game suspension assessed to forward Daniel Carcillo after he made contact with linesman Scott Driscoll during Game 3; Carcillo is appealing the suspension.
"I feel we have a good team here. Obviously you want to have all your best players available, but you have to make the best out of it when that's not the case," Zuccarello said. "I think everyone in here feels comfortable. We're ready to go."
After finding chemistry as a line, Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello took off in the second half of the season. Zuccarello and Pouliot each established new career highs for points, and Brassard had new personal bests with 18 goals, seven power-play points and four game-winners.
The chemistry between the three first developed during training camp, which the Rangers conducted in Banff, Alberta, while Madison Square Garden completed the final stage of a billion-dollar renovation.
"We played well at camp. It felt good almost every time we played together," Zuccarello said. "It goes up and down, but at the end of the day we've been playing good together."
Forced to realign his forward lines, Vigneault was pleased by the prospect of having Brassard back with his regular linemates.
"They have had some big moments in big games," he said. "[Sunday], without a doubt, is a huge game. Both teams know the importance of it. I'm sure we're going to have a great hockey game."
Vigneault also took issue with comments made Saturday by Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who intimated that the Canadiens knew the exact nature of Brassard's injury.
"Let me put it this way, I hope nothing happens to Brass," Vigneault said. "The player and Michel could be in trouble."
Here are the projected lineups:
Rick Nash - Dominic Moore - Chris Kreider
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Martin St. Louis
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
J.T. Miller - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Injured: Derek Stepan (jaw)
Scratched: Daniel Carcillo (suspended), Justin Falk, Raphael Diaz, Jesper Fast
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brian Gionta
Rene Bourque – Lars Eller – Thomas Vanek
Michael Bournival – Daniel Briere – Dale Weise
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov – Alexei Emelin
Francis Bouillon – Mike Weaver
Injured: Carey Price (knee)
Scratched: Brandon Prust (suspended), George Parros, Travis Moen, Ryan White, Jarred Tinordi, Douglas Murray, Nathan Beaulieu