BUFFALO - Chris Drury, who broke his left index finger Sept. 20 while blocking a shot during a scrimmage, practiced with the team Saturday for the first time since the injury and is getting closer to a return.

"I really wanted to push it a little to see how it responded, and I was pretty happy with it," said Drury, who is on injured reserve and will practice again Sunday in Westchester.

Privately, he is eyeing a return for Friday's home opener against Toronto. "I just hope it's as quick as possible,'' he said, "but I'm taking it day to day."

"I don't think it's going to be a conditioning thing, just timing," said Drury, who was expected to be sidelined four weeks. "The biggest concern is taking a step back. If it were to separate and require surgery, you're talking months. We're just making sure that it's stuck together enough. We'll see how it reacts."

Drury is wearing a splint off-ice, and his glove is triple-layered for protection. When he is ready, the Rangers - at the 23-player limit - will have to move a forward, either by waivers or trade.

$imageCaption

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Gilroy scratched

Matt Gilroy, who was benched near the end of last season, was a healthy scratch last night. Steve Eminger and rookie Mike Sauer were the third defensive pair.

"We asked him [Gilroy] to concentrate on some things and he worked hard in the summer," coach John Tortorella said. "We just felt as a coaching staff that Sauer had a better camp. This is just one game."

Because the Rangers have five righthanded defensemen, the veteran Eminger will "be better on the left side, so it came down to him [Sauer] or Matt," Tortorella said.

Sauer, 23, a 6-3 Minnesota native, played three games in 2008-09 as a call-up. He finished at plus-1 last night.

"You come to training camp hoping you'll be in the opening game," he said. "You've got to live in the present and make the most of it."