Rangers' Dan Girardi hopes to return Sunday against Tampa Bay

Dan Girardi clears the puck from Dustin Jeffrey Dan Girardi clears the puck from Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of a game at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 31, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Chris Kreider came back Tuesday after missing five games with a bone chip in his ankle and scored against the Devils.

Then captain Ryan Callahan, who missed three games with a dislocated shoulder, played 19:22 against the Islanders on Thursday and appeared to be back in form, blocking two shots and delivering four hits.

And Sunday, defenseman Dan Girardi, one of the more durable blueliners in the NHL, could return against Tampa Bay at the Garden after missing two games with what is believed to be a groin strain.

So the Rangers, who climbed back to .500 (5-5) with a 4-1 win over the Islanders, are getting healthy, which gives coach John Tortorella 13 healthy forwards and eight defensemen from which to choose a lineup.

Girardi participated in a full practice Friday and said the undisclosed "nagging" injury had improved. "Today felt pretty good," said Girardi, who previously had been sidelined for only two regular-season games in five seasons. "I'll have a day and a half to rest and we'll see how Sunday morning goes. I'm hoping to get back as soon as possible. It'd be nice to play Sunday."

The affable Girardi had avoided the media this week, which is about as rare for him as missing a game. He has persevered through cuts and bruises to play all 82 games in four of the last five seasons, and 80 in 2010-11, when he sat for a pair with a rib-cage injury. Last season, he led the team in average ice time (26:14) and tied for fifth in the league in blocked shots with 185.

"I just want to stay out of [his teammates'] way and let them do their thing," Girardi said, explaining his absence from the locker room. "I think that's the right way to do it. I'm hoping that it's over."

Observers were surprised when Girardi began Tuesday's morning skate, then exited. "I knew after the first couple shots that skating would be impossible," he said. "I didn't want to aggravate it any more. It's smart just to rest sometimes."

Girardi was more himself Friday. He feigned an injury, grabbing his inner thigh and laughing after badly missing the net on a one-on-one drill against Henrik Lundqvist.

When reporters began to converge after practice, Girardi reminded himself, in case he had forgotten, a media relations mantra: "Tone. Attitude. Demeanor."

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