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Stepan out, Brassard in for Rangers in Game 4

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers expect to have a new look in the middle for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Derick Brassard said he's "100 percent" in after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. However, Derek Stepan had surgery to repair his broken jaw Friday night and coach Alain Vigneault said he is "unlikely" to play Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Vigneault said Stepan was at the hospital recovering Saturday morning as the Rangers practiced at Madison Square Garden. Stepan has never missed a game in his four-year NHL career, a span of 348 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"I don't have an update, as far as time," Vigneault said when asked for a time frame for Stepan's return. "He's in the hospital right now recovering from surgery, so that's all I've got."

For what it's worth, the Canadiens aren't sold on the fact that Stepan won't play Sunday despite undergoing surgery Friday night.

Brendan Gallagher mentioned how Stepan was yelling at Prust as he left the ice following the hit at 2:55 of the first period. He also referenced how Stepan returned less than six minutes later and played the remainder of the game.

"I wouldn't be too surprised. We're 100 percent expecting him to play," Gallagher said. "I've seen some broken jaws, usually you can't talk too much. He seemed to be talking fine. I'm sure it's just little. He went in for surgery, I guess, but I don't think it's too serious that it'll keep him out of the lineup, especially at this time. I've seen a lot of guys break their jaws and you usually don't see that. I'm sure it was just a little crack or something. If he played last game, he'll be more than fine to play (Sunday)."

If Stepan can't play, Dominic Moore will likely move up in the lineup to take his place in between wings Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, who didn't practice Saturday but is expected to play Sunday.

Moore's versatility has been useful in this series. He started Game 1 on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, but was moved up to play in Brassard's spot between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello in the past two games.

He had assists on New York's first two goals in Game 1 after Brassard left the game with his injury.

"I pride myself on being a complete player, it's the way I've tried to approach things my whole career," Moore said. "It doesn't change the way I play the game, who I play with. I just try to do my job and do what I'm asked to do. Clearly part of being a versatile and good player is thinking your way through who you're playing with, but you're the same player and you play the same way."

Vigneault, in a joking manner, wouldn't confirm Brassard's return in Game 4, saying he hasn't spoken to the center but had heard about how he broke the news to the media.

"I was told that he cleared himself to you guys, so that's good news," Vigneault said. "I'll talk to him probably [Sunday] and find out and make sure everything's good. Players at this time want to play, and we've got to make sure that everything's alright."

Brassard hasn't played since he was hit hard on his left side by Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver 3:03 into Game 1. He skated on his normal line between Zuccarello and Pouliot during practice on Saturday.

Brassard has four goals, including two game-winners, and three assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I'm going to focus my best to play my game like I've been doing," Brassard said. "Nothing is going to hold me back. The last time I played a [full] game was a week ago so that's going to be different, but there is nothing holding me from playing my game. I'm going to try to play fast. Hopefully I can bring some energy to the team."

Brassard said Stepan's injury and likely absence in Game 4 has nothing to do with his return to the lineup.

"I was aiming for this [game]. We were aiming for this, so it just happened like this," Brassard said. "It's a coincidence that it happened like this, but hopefully we're going to have [Stepan] soon. Hopefully we're going to have him back."

Unless something changes and Stepan recovers in time to play Sunday, J.T. Miller will be in the lineup and play on the fourth line. Miller skated with Boyle and Dorsett in practice.

Daniel Carcillo was playing on the fourth line, but he has been automatically suspended 10 games as a result of being assessed a game misconduct penalty during Game 3 under Rule 40.3 (Physical Abuse of Officials -- Category II).

Miller has two assists in three games this postseason. He hasn't played since Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round on May 5.

"When we've used him in other games he's been alright," Vigneault said of Miller. "He's got a good skill set. He's got a good shot, goes to the net hard, doesn't mind going into tough areas. He's a good player. He's a young player. He's been working with us throughout the playoffs, and he's been in all the video sessions. He's been in everything. He knows what to expect from the Habs in this series. We're definitely going to use him [Sunday], and hopefully he'll be good for us."


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