Kevin Klein is back on the ice for the Rangers since breaking his arm on March 11.
The last time Kevin Klein appeared in a game for the Rangers, Alex Ovechkin’s mighty slap shot struck and broke his left forearm.
The two-way defenseman returned to the lineup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference second-round series − his first appearance since going down on March 11. Before registering a game-high six hits in the Rangers’ last-second 2-1 loss Thursday night, Klein insisted he would not shy away from positioning himself in front of any oncoming pucks.
“Ovie shoots it hard, lots of guys shoot it hard, but you get paid to block shots, and you do what you can to save goals,” Klein said. “When I see him winding up, I’ll be back in front of him if I can get there.”
Klein replaced Matt Hunwick in the lineup and was paired initially alongside Keith Yandle, who also will remain in the lineup after battling an undisclosed illness that kept him out of some practices in the past week.
“We’ll monitor how he does, but I’m very confident that he’s going to play well for us. He’s been one of our best defensemen all year,” Alain Vigneault said before the game.
Klein scored seven of his career-best nine goals by Dec. 20, and he finished first among NHL defensemen with a plus-24 rating and second with four game-winning scores despite missing 17 games.
WE MISS ZUCS
Rangers top-line right wing Mats Zuccarello was the only Ranger unavailable due to injury for Game 1.
The team maintained that the Norwegian forward, who has a likely concussion, is “sidelined indefinitely” with an “upper-body injury” after being hit in the left side of his helmet by a Ryan McDonagh shot last Friday night at the Garden.
It is unknown whether Zuccarello will be available at any point in the series. Vigneault said on Wednesday that “Zucc’s not gonna be available” but then backed off ruling him out for the full round.
Zuccarello left Game 5 of the Rangers-Penguins series with 3:58 remaining in the first period after being struck by the puck and did not return.
“When you have a lot of depth in your team it’s always gonna help, especially this time of year, but at the same time you can’t really replace a guy like Zuccarello,” said center Derick Brassard, Zuccarello’s typical center and good friend.
“The way he’s been playing the game for us, the passion that he brings, in the playoffs this time of year, it’s hard to replace.
But James Sheppard is gonna jump into the lineup. He’s been playing some really good hockey since we got him in the trade.”
Sheppard, who registered two hits in 11:02 minutes of action in his first appearance of the postseason, was acquired at the deadline from the San Jose Sharks.
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