NEW YORK -- New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein will return to the lineup Thursday against the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
It will be Klein's first game since March 11, when, ironically, he was injured in a game against Washington.
Klein will start Game 1 with Keith Yandle on the Rangers' third defense pair. Yandle will play despite dealing with his own injury/illness that prevented him from practicing earlier this week.
"Definitely there's been an itch for a while," Klein said. "It's tough when you see the guys battling and you're not on the ice, when you're watching a lot of hockey and you like to play. That competitiveness inside you, it drives you and you want to be out there for your teammates."
Klein broke his left forearm blocking a shot from Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin during a 3-1 win at Verizon Center on March 11. He said he won't hesitate to block another one of Ovechkin's shots.
"You're paid to block shots and do what you can to save goals," Klein said. "It was a fluke thing. When I see him winding up, I'll be back in front of him if I can get there."
Klein set career highs this season for goals (nine), points (26), and plus/minus (plus-24), despite missing 17 regular-season games, including the final 16.
"We'll monitor how he does there, but I'm very confident that he's going to play well for us," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's been one of our best defensemen all year long."
Klein said the only adjustment he thinks he'll have to make is with his timing, which obviously can't be simulated in a practice.
"You know it's going to be amped up, the crowd is going to be into it," Klein said. "It's playoff hockey and it's always fun. But I've got to be ready to go right off the start and get into it physically, which really activates my game, I feel. I do that and I've played enough games that I'll know what to expect."
Klein and Yandle will have to try to establish their chemistry in Game 1. They played five games together after Yandle came to the Rangers in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes on March 1 and before Klein was injured.
"Playing some games with him, you get used to him and his tendencies," Yandle said. "And just how good of a player he is makes him an easy guy to play with. We've got to be simple early to get used to it, especially the playoff pace. But I think we'll be OK."
With forward Mats Zuccarello out indefinitely because of an upper-body injury, James Sheppard will play his first Stanley Cup Playoff game with the Rangers after being a healthy scratch in the first round.
Sheppard hasn't appeared in a playoff game since last season, when he played for the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round against the Los Angeles Kings. He played all seven games in that series and had six points, but the Sharks lost the best-of-7 series after taking a 3-0 lead.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Joel Ward
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jason Chimera
Andre Burakovsky - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Curtis Glencross - Brooks Laich - Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Tim Gleason - Mike Green
Scratched: Michael Latta, Dmitry Orlov
Injured: Eric Fehr (upper body)
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Martin St. Louis
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - J.T. Miller
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
James Sheppard - Dominic Moore - Tanner Glass
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle - Kevin Klein
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (upper body)
Scratched: Matt Hunwick, Chris Summers
Status report: The Rangers provided no update on Zuccarello, who remains out indefinitely because of an upper-body injury. Vigneault said Wednesday he wouldn't rule out Zuccarello for the entire series. … St. Louis will move from the third line to the first line and Fast will move up from the fourth line to the third line. Sheppard will go in on the fourth line. … With 12 healthy forwards, Vigneault said the Rangers have decided not to recall a forward from Hartford of the American Hockey League. Vigneault said the close geographic proximity between Hartford and New York means the Rangers could get a forward to join them quickly if it were necessary. In addition, Hartford is playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Who's hot: Hagelin carries a three-game point streak into the series. He scored the series-clinching overtime winner in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. … McDonagh, Nash and Brassard each had four points against Pittsburgh. ... Brassard has a Rangers-high three goals.