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With McDonagh and Girardi Out, Diaz Expected to Practice

by Jim Cerny / New York Rangers

Sunday was a day off for the Rangers before the team returns to practice on Monday in advance of Tuesday's Game Three of their best-of-seven opening round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When the team does return to work at the MSG Training Center Monday afternoon, head coach Alain Vigneault stated Sunday that he does not expect either of his injured defensemen--Ryan McDonagh nor Dan Girardi--to be able to participate.

"(McDonagh and Girardi) did come in this morning for treatment, but if I was a betting man I would say no," Vigneault answered when asked about the pair's availability for the next practice.

However Vigneault did state that he expects 30 year-old defenseman Raphael Diaz to practice with the team for the first time since training camp in September. Diaz spent the entire season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, appearing in only 37 games due to injuries.

"We put together a list of players who will be joining us as the Black Aces since (Hartford) has been eliminated," explained Vigneault. "I do believe that Diaz will be joining us for tomorrow's practice and the other guys will be going through their medicals and their exit meetings prior to coming here probably Tuesday or Wednesday I am thinking."

Diaz is a player Vigneault knows, and likes. The Swiss native was a member of the Rangers team that made a run under Vigneault to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, appearing in 11 regular season games and another four in the playoffs after being acquired that March in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

Last season Diaz signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames and appeared in 56 regular season games and another three in the post-season before inking a free agent deal with the Rangers this past summer. Injuries at inopportune times stood in the way of Diaz being recalled from the minor leagues on more than one occasion this season, according to Vigneault.

Still Diaz managed to play well when healthy at Hartford, scoring six goals and registering 21 points to go along with a +11 plus/minus rating in those 37 games he did play with the Wolf Pack.

The veteran of 201 NHL games with four different teams has not been officially recalled by the Blueshirts as of yet. When he does arrive the right-handed shooting defenseman provides the club with options on either the right or left side, which is important since the Rangers are down one key defender from each side.

McDonagh has missed five consecutive games with an upper body injury, while Girardi has sat out three of the last four due to an unspecified injury. Girardi did play in the series opener against Pittsburgh, a 5-2 loss.

"Dan, in my estimation, is a real solid defenseman," the head coach said of Girardi. "He plays through more things than I've seen a lot of my players play through, and he's always team-first. If it was up to Dan he would be playing. When he does come back I'm sure he'll play real well for us."

Rookies Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath have been filling in for the injured veteran Rangers defensemen so far in the first two games of the playoffs. Skjei has appeared in both games, logging more than 17 minutes in the opener and 19 in Saturday's 4-2 victory in which he picked up an assist for his first career NHL point. McIlrath was a healthy scratch in Game One before playing a little more than nine minutes in Game Two.

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