Marek Hrivik is called up from Hartford to join the Rangers in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
PITTSBURGH – The Rangers unexpectedly recalled right wing Marek Hrivik from the AHL at 4 p.m., just four hours prior to puck drop on Game 1.
The reason why was unclear. Viktor Stalberg has been nursing a lower-body injury, but he has practiced in recent days and skated Wednesday morning, too. Hrivik’s best play this season was on the right wing of Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore, where Stalberg has played lately.
Hrivik’s recall was especially strange because the Czech forward already had played in Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 Hartford Wolf Pack road win over the Toronto Marlies – not to mention that Alain Vigneault already had an extra forward, Oscar Lindberg, in Pittsburgh with the NHL team.
THE BRADY BUNCH
Brady Skjei sat at his locker just after noon Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center and looked so excited for his NHL playoff debut that he might leave his skates on for the next eight hours.
“I’m confident,” Skjei, 22, said. “I’ve played seven games, and I feel comfortable. I know it’s gonna be a step up, but I’ve been working for this my whole life. So I’m ready.”
The Rangers’ 2012 first-round pick was in the lineup for Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins due to captain Ryan McDonagh’s right hand injury, which is expected to sideline the Rangers’ top defenseman for at least a few games if not the entire series.
Skjei said previously the most intense game he has ever played in was the 2014 NCAA National Championship game, when his Minnesota Golden Gophers lost to Union (N.Y.), 7-4, a club featuring Philadelphia Flyers Calder Trophy candidate Shayne Gostisbehere and Mat Bodie, Skjei’s Hartford Wolf Pack teammate.
He admitted a month ago he did not envision sitting in the Rangers’ room in April, calling it “crazy how things work,” but said in previous years he has watched the Blueshirts’ postseason runs and dreamed of his time.
“In school our team would watch all the playoffs, so I definitely kept on track with the Rangers,” He said. “I thought I could play here someday, and it’s awesome that this year I’ll be able to make that jump.”
Skjei, a strong skater and left-handed shot, acknowledged that the toughest challenge may be battling the Penguins’ crease-crashers to protect Henrik Lundqvist. But he confidently said he intends to play a “strong game” and “contribute.”
“(My teammates) told me to be ready, that the first couple shifts will be high intensity, and then just settle in as fast as you can and it’s gonna be a high intensity throughout,” he said. “I love playoff hockey. It’s the best time of the year.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called his goalie situation for Game 1 a “game-time decision,” but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he was preparing for No. 1 Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to make his return from a March 31 concussion. Fleury skated Wednesday morning for a third straight day, symptom-free.
Sullivan will be fortunate if Fleury plays. The Pens coach inexplicably started No. 2 goalie Matt Murray in a meaningless late regular season game against Philadelphia, and Murray was injured on a collision with Flyers forward Brayden Schenn. If Fleury hadn’t rehabbed, Sullivan would have had to start No. 3 goalie Jeff Zatkoff against the Rangers in Game 1. That would have been tough for the coach to explain.