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Rangers getting back some of their injured players

by Dave Lozo /
NEW YORK -- At least the New York Rangers have their health.

It may seem like a small consolation after failing to hold a 2-0 lead and losing 4-3 in a shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, but the Rangers received a huge boost by getting forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan back in the lineup.

Dubinsky, the team's leading scorer with 39 points, missed five games with a stress fracture in his left leg. Callahan has 11 goals and 13 assists in 33 games, but the Rangers really missed his contributions as a penalty killer and human wrecking ball, a skater willing to throw his body around without concern for his well-being, when he missed 19 games with a broken hand.

They returned in style Tuesday, as Dubinsky picked up an assist and Callahan scored a goal from in front of the net to tie the game at 3-3. They both logged more than 21 minutes, but it looked like Callahan got into the flow of things a little faster than Dubinsky.

"In the first period I was just trying to get my feet under me a little bit. Some plays along the wall I was a little shaky with," said Callahan, who had a game-high seven hits. "But after that, I felt pretty good. After I scored that goal, it settled me down a little bit. I thought we had a couple good shifts in the second period where we were cycling, and that's my game. Once I started doing that, I started feeling confidence and started playing well."

Dubinsky had a solid game, but he made an errant pass on a 4-on-2 rush in the first period and didn't see a Penguins defender coming behind him along the wall in the defensive zone and had his pocket picked during the second period. But Dubinsky showed his hand-eye coordination hadn't suffered at all during his two-week layoff.

After Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped a shot by Marian Gaborik, Dubinsky drove to the net and batted the puck out of mid-air to Artem Anisimov, who also hit the puck at waist level to score a goal that put the Rangers ahead 2-0 early in the second period.

"I was trying to bat it toward the net and got a good bounce," said Dubinsky, whose 23:10 of ice time was most among Rangers forwards. "My legs were better than I anticipated that they would be. Hopefully I'll get right back into the flow of things."

Considering the bad luck the Rangers have had with injuries -- they had lost 193 man-games to injury or illness entering Tuesday, the sixth-most in the League -- they could use a break. Even with Dubinsky, Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi, who missed two games with a rib injury, back in the lineup, the Rangers still are not close to 100 percent healthy.

Vinny Prospal (knee) hasn't played a game this season, but he's expected to return Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. Erik Christensen (knee) and Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder) have been out for several weeks but could be back within the next 7-10 days. Alex Frolov (knee) is out for the season and Derek Boogaard (shoulder) isn't close to returning. Captain Chris Drury missed two months and Gaborik a month earlier in the season.

Getting Dubinsky and Callahan back didn't pay immediate dividends, but once Prospal, Fedotenko and Christensen are healthy at the same time, the Rangers will have the type of depth they've lacked all season. It's a scary thought considering they've been entrenched in an Eastern Conference playoff spot throughout all their injury woes.

"If you look through our lineup, I think we have a pretty solid four lines and no matter who we put out there, we can contribute and we're tough to play against," Callahan said. "I think that's really good for our team depth-wise. You can see any line play at any part of the game. That's going to be key for us moving forward and into the playoffs."

While injuries like the ones the Rangers have suffered would sink the seasons of most teams. However, the Rangers have been buoyed by players like Brian Boyle, who has a team-leading 18 goals; rookie Derek Stepan, who is third on the team with 30 points; and Mats Zuccarello, who was called up one week after Callahan went down and has 3 goals and 9 assists in 18 games and is 4-for-5 in the shootout.

"When we went through the injuries, it gave guys other opportunities," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We weren't sure if Zucc was going to be able to play. Now he comes up here and certainly does his thing in the shootouts, but he's probably one of our most creative passers. He sees the ice tremendously.

"It's good stuff for us. We didn't figure that out until we had injuries. It gives the guys the opportunity. Some guys seize the opportunity."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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