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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers return from the All-Star break tonight to play their first game in a week, beginning the final chase for a playoff spot with 30 games remaining on the regular-season schedule. And as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins this evening at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers are set to receive a boost to their injury-ravaged lineup.
Alternate captain Ryan Callahan -- who has missed the past 19 games due to a broken hand -- and defenseman Dan Girardi -- who sat out the first two games of his NHL career prior to the All-Star break because of a strained muscle in his rib cage -- will both be in the Blueshirts’ lineup tonight.
In addition to this good news, the Rangers might also welcome Brandon Dubinsky back this evening. Dubinsky, the club’s leading scorer with 38 points, has missed five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg, but he returned to practice on Monday and would not rule himself out from rejoining his teammates on the ice tonight vs. the Penguins.
“It’s great to see all the boys back out there at practice,” Girardi said following Monday’s workout. “It’s a good feeling to know that guys are coming back now. We’re ready to start this final push here on the right foot, and we’re certainly ready for the Penguins at the start.”
The return of Callahan and Girardi -- two key members of the team’s core -- is hugely important for the Rangers. Callahan provides tremendous energy, passion, skill, and leadership to the team, and has produced 26 points in 32 games this season. Girardi skates alongside All-Star Marc Staal on the club’s top defense pairing -- averaging more than 24 minutes of ice-time per game -- and is the Rangers’ top-scoring defenseman with 23 points in 50 games.
“The hand is 100 percent, has full strength, and it feels good,” said Callahan. “I’m just happy to be back. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, but it just happens to be Pittsburgh so it’s a pretty big game. I’m really excited to be back playing at MSG, and against the Penguins where it’s always a good building when they come into town. It’s an exciting game to come back for. I’ve been waiting quite a while, so I’m ready to go.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella is thrilled to finally get Callahan, who had his hand broken in a game against the Penguins back on Dec. 15, back in the lineup tonight.
“He does everything for us (and) is one of our leaders, it means everything for us (to have him back),” Tortorella said of Callahan. “I give our team a lot of credit because that’s when I was most worried, when we lost him, where this team would go. Cally is that important. It’ll be good to have him back in the room, first of all, and then back on the ice.”
While Tortorella expected both Callahan and Girardi to return to the lineup in the first game following the All-Star break, it would be more of a surprise should Dubinsky be able to play tonight. Although he has been lobbying Tortorella to come back this evening ever since the Rangers’ most recent game last Tuesday at The Garden against Florida, Dubinsky has only skated once since being sidelined -- and that was on Monday.
However, neither coach nor player would say for sure whether or not Dubinsky could play this evening.
“I wouldn’t rule him out,” Tortorella said of Dubinsky. “If it was up to him, he would play. But it’s not going to be his decision. We have to check with the doctor and see how he feels. He wants to play, but we can’t put him in a situation where he could get hurt again. We’ll see how he feels (Tuesday) morning and then make a decision from there.”
Not surprisingly, Dubinsky was very upbeat about the prospects of his possible return tonight.
“I’m not going to rule anything out, and I’m not going to put a time limit on this,” said Dubinsky. “If I wake up and feel great (Tuesday) then you never know what could happen. I feel like I have given it time to heal, and the doc said he saw healing. So it’s all good things.”
If Dubinsky is unable to play tonight, the news regarding his health is still positive because a return to the lineup is imminent. And he is not the only injured player in that situation.
Forwards Vinny Prospal---who has yet to play a game this season because of knee surgery -- and Erik Christensen -- who has missed 14 games since spraining his knee on Dec. 29 --also took part in the full team practice on Monday. Following the workout, Tortorella announced that Prospal, who was the Rangers’ second leading scorer with 58 points last season, will make his 2010-11 debut on Thursday night when the Rangers host the Devils at MSG.
As for Christensen, who along with Dubinsky took part in a “bag skate” run by assistant coach Mike Sullivan prior to skating in the complete practice on Monday, the skilled play-maker said that his knee felt strong, although he needs to improve his conditioning before being game-ready again.
Like Prospal and Dubinsky, however, Christensen is close to making his return. And like the rest of his teammates, Christensen was thrilled to hear the news that Callahan will officially make his way back into the Rangers’ lineup this evening.
“I am really excited for Cally, the team has really missed him,” said Christensen. “We all gave him a big round of applause when Torts announced that he’d be in (Tuesday).”
That round of applause from his teammates will be dwarfed in sheer volume as to what Callahan will hear from The Garden Faithful tonight when he returns to action for the Rangers.
“It’s been a long seven weeks, but I am excited to be back and excited to be in the lineup (Tuesday),” said Callahan.
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