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Rangers' Kevin Klein not expected to play Gm 1 vs. Penguins

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Kevin Klein (r.), who broke a bone in his forearm on March 11, is not expected to be ready for Game 1 of the Rangers' first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Kevin Klein (r.), who broke a bone in his forearm on March 11, is not expected to be ready for Game 1 of the Rangers’ first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

The Rangers’ entry to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs was almost picture perfect as a completely healthy, top overall NHL seed.

Unfortunately, injured top-four defenseman Kevin Klein did not return for Tuesday’s practice in Greenburgh, so he is not expected to play in Game 1 against the second wild-card Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at the Garden.

“He’s day-to-day,” coach Alain Vigneault said of Klein, who broke a bone in his left forearm on March 11 blocking a shot by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. “As everybody knows, a broken bone takes time to heal. We anticipated four-to-six weeks. We’re in that range. He’s been skating on his own, but he’s not quite ready yet to join the team.”

In truth, the Rangers initially estimated Klein only would miss three-to-four weeks with an injury that often sidelines players four-to-six. Klein rehabs diligently, has a high tolerance for pain, and missed just one match in November after a shot block off his foot that might have sidelined someone else for weeks.

Klein has been skating by himself since early April and has been stickhandling for about a week, but the fact he didn’t practice on Tuesday suggests he unable to shoot a puck normally or take significant contact, with the five-week mark approaching Wednesday.

Vigneault said Klein would have to participate in Wednesday’s practice in order to play on Thursday, and the coach said he does not expect Klein to rejoin his teammates in 24 hours.

Klein’s health is critical if the Rangers intend to finish what they started with last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Blueshirts did rattle off an 11-5-0 record in their final 16 regular season games without him, too.

A major reason is that offseason acquisition Dan Boyle – Klein’s fill-in as the second-pair, right-side defenseman – suddenly elevated his puck-moving and his defensive play in the final month of the season.

Boyle, a huge downgrade defensively from Anton Stralman one year ago, was quoted in the winter saying the Rangers “didn’t bring me here to win a game in December.” The veteran, $ 4.5-million defenseman in January was demoted to the third defensive pairing, and then GM Glen Sather acquired Keith Yandle at the trade deadline, bumping Boyle in March off the top power play unit he was signed to improve.

In the last month, though, Boyle has gained momentum, just like his team, and that is the primary reason the Rangers will remain heavy favorites against the Penguins even if Klein misses a few games: It’s not that the Blueshirts finished 15 points ahead of Pittsburgh; it’s that they finished the season determined to improve despite already standing atop the Eastern Conference.

They were justifiably unsatisfied with efforts in March and April when they often won despite not playing their best. Injury-riddled Pittsburgh, meanwhile, slumped down the stretch and barely got in.

“We don’t talk about that,” winger Carl Hagelin said of the Rangers being favorites. “We know lately we’ve had some good games and some bad games. Once you’re in the playoffs it doesn’t matter what you’re seeded. It matters if we feel good about ourselves going in.

“We know if we play the way we want to play, though, we can beat any team in this league,” the confident young Swede added. “We know that.”

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