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• Game Notes
• Newbury Returned to Whale
• Johnson Called Up from Connecticut
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Wednesday was a good day for the Rangers, because three of their injured regulars were all able to take part in a full practice. The question now is whether or not Marc Staal, Ruslan Fedotenko, and/or Marian Gaborik will return to the lineup tonight when the Rangers host the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella partially answered that question following Wednesday’s workout when he said that Gaborik, who is recovering from a concussion, would definitely not play this evening. As for Staal and Fedotenko, the head coach will consult with the team’s medical staff prior to the game and make a decision if one or both will be able to play.
After practice on Wednesday, both Staal and Fedotenko were cautiously optimistic about their chances to return to action tonight.
“I want to get back in there and help and see us get winning again,” said Staal, who has missed the past three games with a sore knee. “I just want to make sure it’s good to go, so we’ll see how I feel (Thursday). I’m hoping it responds well, because I felt good out there (Wednesday).”
Fedotenko, who hurt his shoulder last Friday against Washington in his return from a 14-game injury absence, sat out the last two games, but he looked strong in practice on Wednesday.
“That’s why they brought me here, to help the team, particularly in this situation late in the season,” said Fedotenko, who has played on two Stanley Cup champions during his career. “I can’t wait to get in and try to help the team get some wins and get in the playoffs. I felt decent enough in practice, so we’ll just see how I feel (Thursday) morning.”
While neither Staal nor Fedotenko knows if they will play tonight -- and Gaborik is unsure of his return date -- the one thing all three players can agree on without question is that it has been extremely difficult sitting on the sidelines while their teammates have battled so hard, yet struggled to pick up victories on a consistent basis of late.
“It (stinks),” said Staal. “Especially now, this time of year, it’s tough to watch. Every player goes through injuries, and I’ve been very lucky to be healthy this long. I just have to make sure it heals up and then just get back at it. But right now, it’s real tough to watch.”
As for Gaborik, he took part in a full team practice for the first time since leaving the Feb. 20 game against the Flyers at MSG with concussion symptoms. He had skated on his own prior to Wednesday, but he had to shut down his workouts because of the headaches he suffered afterwards.
On Wednesday Gaborik made his first comments about his condition since suffering the injury.
“As we speak now, yes I feel (symptom-free),” Gaborik said after the workout at the MSG Training Center. “I never had a concussion before. I thought it would go away, but it got worse. I was very, very excited I was on the ice (Wednesday) and that I felt good. We’ll see how it feels afterwards.”
With what, hopefully, is the imminent return of three key players from their lineup, the Rangers have 17 games remaining in which to secure a playoff spot. They enter play tonight in seventh place in the Eastern Conference but just one point up on eighth-place Carolina and only three ahead of ninth-place Buffalo. Both of those teams have games in hand on the Blueshirts.
The Rangers have spoken repeatedly about not looking behind them and instead focusing on moving up in the standings. To that end they trail sixth-place Montreal by five points and fifth-place Washington by eight.
“We want to get ourselves in the best possible playoff position we can be,” said Brandon Dubinsky. “We don’t want to be fighting for a playoff spot on the last day of the season like last year, we want to be in long before that.”
To help accomplish that goal, the Rangers know they need to play better on home ice. The Blueshirts are an impressive 19-13-1 on the road this season, but have struggled with a 14-15-3 mark at The Garden. They have lost three in a row at home and are just 2-5-1 in their last 8 games at MSG.
“We’ve been a pretty good road team all year, but it’s tough not to come through for your fans,” said Erik Christensen, who has scored three goals in his last three games. “We’ve struggled the last month at home, but we’ve also worked hard and done some good things. We just haven’t been able to get that big goal, or that timely goal.”
The Rangers conclude a three-game homestand with tonight’s tilt. They will travel immediately after the game to Ottawa, where they will face the Senators on Friday night. Then it’s right back to The Garden for a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Flyers to close out the week.
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