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Rangers' McDonagh could be back for first round

Captain will miss Game 1, but Vigneault says defenseman 'might be able to play at some point'

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh will not be in the lineup to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a right hand injury, but coach Alain Vigneault left open the possibility he could return during the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Rangers and Penguins play Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m.; ET. USA, MSG, ROOT, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"There's a chance that he might be able to play at some point," Vigneault said of McDonagh, the Rangers captain.

McDonagh, who missed the final three games of the regular season, came on the ice late in practice Tuesday wearing a red non-contact sweater. He did mostly skating drills with assistant coach Darryl Williams, but the key was that he was holding his left-handed stick with both hands. When McDonagh skated before practice Monday, he was holding a right-handed stick with just his left hand.

With McDonagh out, Vigneault is leaning toward using rookie defenseman Brady Skjei in his place. Vigneault said he wouldn't make up his mind until Wednesday morning, but Skjei was paired with Dan Boyle in practice Tuesday. 

Video: CBJ@NYR: McDonagh knocks down Calvert in open ice

Skjei played the final three games of the regular season in McDonagh's place; he played seven NHL games this season.

"Skjei, in the games he's played, has performed well, and has shown he can definitely skate at this level and move the puck," Vigneault said. "Those are two things that we like from our back end."

Vigneault also likes having balanced defense pairs with a lefty playing the left side and a righty playing the right side. Skjei, like McDonagh, is a lefty. The Rangers' only other healthy extra defenseman is Dylan McIlrath, who is a righty.

The other lefties are Marc Staal and Keith Yandle; New York's righties are Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Boyle and McIlrath.

"I'm going to make my mind up [Wednesday], but I do think at this time righty-lefty, natural positions, guys are a little bit more comfortable so I'm leaning toward that," Vigneault said. "I do think when we have tried the two righties together it's a little bit more challenging."

Video: NYR@WSH: Yandle scores PPG with a shot from the point

Vigneault said the Rangers have discussed recalling Raphael Diaz, a righty, from Hartford of the American Hockey League, but haven't done so because he's been injured. Vigneault said Diaz could play for Hartford on Wednesday.

"We've got seven healthy defensemen here at this time; we are still inquiring on Diaz," Vigneault said. "He's been battling injuries for a good part of this season. I would like to have eight defensemen around if I could, so we'll see if he plays and how he plays."

Vigneault said Diaz would be a welcome addition because of his experience and ability to move the puck. He has played in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including three last season with the Calgary Flames. He has no points.

"He's a puck-moving defenseman that has a good shot and can help out on the power play," Vigneault said. "With [McDonagh] being out at this time, he's definitely somebody we've had in our conversations. The conversations, though, have been short because he's been hurt."

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