When Chris Kreider flew straight from the Boston College Eagles into the NHL playoffs in April 2012, his impact on the Rangers was immediate.
For those who might not remember: With the Rangers trailing the Senators 3-2 in the first round, the big, fast winger scored the game-winner in his debut in Ottawa in Game 6 on April 23. Five days later, he scored the winner at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 against the Capitals, then he had three goals and two assists against the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals.
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Can the 6-3 Kreider help right the Rangers in this best-of-seven series against the Penguins, possibly as soon as Wednesday's Game 4 or Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Friday?
Well, the circumstances are slightly different: The 23-year-old winger has missed 19 games after breaking his left hand, and had surgery March 28. For weeks, the Rangers have said he is out indefinitely, but Kreider, wearing a plastic shield on his hand, has been sweating out solo on-ice conditioning drills, and has started stickhandling and light shooting at the end of morning skates.
And judging by coach Alain Vigneault's comments Tuesday, he is getting close to returning.
On a conference call, Vigneault said Kreider, who scored 17 goals -- six on the power play -- in 66 games this season, was seeing the doctors.
"I think we're going to know in a short time frame here," Vigneault said, "a day or a couple."
Asked specifically about his chances of playing in this series, which the Rangers trail 2-1 and haven't scored in two games, Vigneault said: "It's tough for me to answer without talking to the doctors."
But Vigneault clearly is hopeful about adding Kreider to the lineup, which is in an 0-for-34 slide with the man-advantage.
"The size and speed he has would put pressure on the defense, and obviously, Kreids is real good with the net presence on the power play," Vigneault said. "He'd bring a lot, I know that."
Kreider, who also scored the overtime winner in Game 4 of the second round against the Boston Bruins last spring, has been mum about his progress, but teammate Brian Boyle, another BC alum, said Tuesday: "He's been really, really pushing himself. He's a huge part of our team. If we can add him back, he's going to be ready to go, will be excited to play and bring speed and physicality."
Even without Kreider, Boyle has confidence that the Rangers can rebound.
"We know the group we have in the room," he said. "We've gone through some ups and downs, moments where we've been tested. Game 3 was better than Game 2; we know how we can play and we can still play better."
Notes & quotes: With the day off, the Rangers had a chance to rest and recharge after playing five games in seven days. "I don't think that fatigue is an issue," Dominic Moore said. "That's behind us . . . We're all fine." . . . Vigneault said that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux told his former teammate and Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson: "Anything [Marc-Andre] Fleury can catch, he will catch." Vigneault added: "So maybe if we stay away from that mitt a little bit, our chances might become a little better." . . . Rick Nash leads the NHL with 41 shots on goal in the playoffs, but hasn't scored. "He's handling it the best as he can," Vigneault said. "He's a proud individual; he knows for us to have success, he has to find a way to contribute on the scoresheet. I have to believe with the work ethic he's putting forward, sooner or later those great looks that he's getting are going to go in."