When the Rangers take to the ice for Game Three of their opening-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Madison Square Garden there is a chance that team captain Ryan McDonagh will be among those players doing so.
McDonagh has missed the past five games--the last three of the regular season and the first two of this series against the Penguins--since suffering an upper body injury two weeks ago against the Columbus Blue Jackets. However he practiced with his teammates for the first time yesterday, took part in today's optional morning skate, and will meet with team doctors this afternoon.
"What I can tell you is that Ryan will meet with our doctors this afternoon and then we'll make a decision," explained head coach Alain Vigneault. "I had said doubtful yesterday, and (my hope) is a little higher (now) than yesterday."
If McDonagh was able to play Vigneault would still have decisions to make regarding the make up of his defense corps. A left-handed shot, McDonagh would presumably return to his natural side, meaning that rookie Brady Skjei--who has impressed in his first two career playoff contests--would either switch to the right side filling the injured Dan Girardi's vacancy or be a healthy scratch. Other options on the right side are Dylan McIlrath--who made his NHL playoff debut in Saturday's 4-2 Rangers win in Game Two--or 30 year-old veteran Raphael Diaz, who spent this entire season with Hartford in the minor leagues.
"I'm still contemplating here, waiting for the meeting with the doctors, and then I'll make up my mind on how I shuffle the deck," stated Vigneault. "I'm looking at all my options."
McDonagh, Girardi, Diaz and McIlrath all took part in today's optional morning skate, joining forwards Oscar Lindberg and Marek Hrivik and goaltenders Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg. For Girardi, it was another step in the right direction after missing three of the past four games with an undisclosed injury.
"He's been practicing and skating on his own the past three or four days, and today was the first time he was out there with a couple of his teammates," explained Vigneault. "We'll see how he progresses."
If McDonagh is able to return tonight, it will be curious to see what he is able to do and what he can not do physically out on the ice. Even Vigneault was surprised to see his captain return to practice yesterday since it's only been 14 days since the injury occurred.
"Everyone's different and every injury is different," Derek Stepan said of players playing through pain during the post-season. "It's funny how when the adrenaline gets going and you get into your first shift or so the pain not be as much as it would be if there wasn't as much on the line; but it's certainly never easy to play through those. It's unique for everybody, different situations for each player."
With the situation as it is, the make up of the Rangers defense corps likely will not be known until warm ups tonight at The Garden.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh's No. 1 goalie, will once again not be able to play tonight, head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters this morning. Fleury will miss his ninth consecutive game following a concussion.
The 31 year-old Fleury had been practicing every day for the last week, but did not take part in Pittsburgh's morning skate at MSG today. Sullivan would explain why, just reiterating that Fleury is day to day.
Jeff Zatkoff has started the first two games of this series, posting a 3.08 GAA and .908 save percentage. However rookie Matt Murray, 9-2-1 in 13 appearances during the regular season with a 2.00 GAA and .930 save percentage, returned to Penguins practice Monday after missing the first two games against the Rangers with an undisclosed injury.
Murray took part in the morning skate--and was in the starter's net, though Zatkoff was the first goalie off the ice this morning. Sullivan would say only that Murray "is an option tonight".
Pittsburgh has steadily gotten its walking wounded back into the lineup as this best-of-seven has progressed. Defenseman Olli Maatta returned from injury right before the start of the playoffs and appeared in both Games One and Two. Superstar center Evgeni Malkin, who has missed 16 straight games with an upper body injury, was back on Saturday and contributed an assist while playing more than 18 minutes. Winger Bryan Rust also returned from injury for Game Two.
"My game has come back, and I believe today I will play better," Malkin told reporters today. "I didn't play for a long time, a little bit lose my hands, but I feel that's back now, too--and my legs. This is a really important game...a big fight tonight, and I'm excited to play."