GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Things seem to be breaking for the Rangers. Not breaking, as in hands, or sprained, as in knees or shoulders. Breaking in the fortunate sense.
Three injured top-nine forwards are back this week. Right wing Ryan Callahan, out with a fractured hand since being hit by a shot from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Dec. 15, will return tonight when the Penguins visit the Garden as the regular season resumes after the All-Star hiatus.
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Left wing Brandon Dubinsky, who was shut down after a stress fracture in his left shin two weeks ago, practiced and might play Tuesday night or Thursday against the Devils.
Vinny Prospal, the enthusiastic veteran who has yet to play a game after major knee surgery Oct. 18, will be ready Thursday, coach John Tortorella said. And Erik Christensen (knee), who has been out for five weeks, practiced and is about a week away.
"The timing's great," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "We were battling, but it was tough being down that many guys, and guys like Vinny, they've been working so hard to get back. It also brings up the competition. There's going to be fighting for some spots."
With 23 skaters and two goaltenders on the ice Monday, there almost weren't enough practice jerseys available.
"For most of the year, we were just trying to field a team out there to get a full practice in; this is the other end of the spectrum," Tortorella said. "I think we'll be a better team for it."
The patchwork lineup has endured, stitched together with AHL call-ups, youngsters such as Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer who have blossomed with increased ice time, and Wojtek Wolski, acquired from Phoenix in a trade for Michal Rozsival. The Rangers have hung on to sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 29 wins and 61 points. Thirty games remain in the regular season.
Callahan's return is particularly anticipated.
"He does everything for us. He's one of our leaders," Tortorella said. "That's when I was most worried, when we lost him. I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and finding a way."
On defense, Dan Girardi (ribs), who missed the last two games with a rib injury, said he is completely healed. And in one final good omen, the Penguins will be missing two world-class players: Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (sinus infection).