Rangers' Derek Stepan scores two goals in return for Game 5
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MONTREAL - Derek Stepan didn't let a broken jaw stop him from returning to form.
Wearing a guard attached to his helmet to protect his surgically-repaired fracture, the Rangers center played 11:27 and scored twice in the first 40 minutes in Game 5 at the Bell Centre Tuesday night.
His 45-foot wrister eluded Dustin Tokarksi at 10:44 of the first and tied the score at 1, and he scored at 12:06 of the second period. That was his fifth goal of the postseason, to go with eight assists. Stepan, who did not talk after the game, played a total of 19:43.
Stepan's jaw was fractured on a blindside shoulder check from Brandon Prust in Game 3. After missing Game 4, Stepan played mostly in his regular spot between Chris Kreider and Rick Nash.
"It's a great, great sign to be back that quick here and be able to skate with us as a group," said Ryan McDonagh at the morning skate, where Stepan's presence on the ice was a good indication he would return.
Stepan was on a soft-food diet and was being monitored for nutrition and hydration issues. He was not made available to the media Tuesday.
Stepan had played in 348 straight games before Sunday's scratch.
"It's a pretty incredible run that he had there," said McDonagh, who played with Stepan at the University of Wisconsin. "He's such a smart player. He might not be known as a physical guy, but he can throw some big hits and take some big hits, too. He takes a lot of hits to make plays, the way he holds onto the puck and is patient and waits it out. He's just as tough as any player out there that I've seen."
And this game was especially important, with the Rangers leading the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals 3-1, and with an opportunity to clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1994. Stepan had five goals and eight assists in 18 playoff games.
The Minnesota native also plays on the penalty kill, and as coach Alain Vigneault said, in noting his importance to the team, "is our only righthanded faceoff guy."
In Game 4, said Brad Richards, "Step was missed. We're lucky we got [injured] Derick Brassard back. Hopefully, if everything goes right, we can get them both back and get our full lineup. That can only mean good things."
After the hit in Game 3, Stepan had X-rays, which were negative, returned to the ice and completed the game, earning an assist on Kreider's tying goal with 28 seconds left in regulation. But he remained in pain and a scan discovered the hairline fracture, said to be four inches long, on Friday.
Prust, who was not penalized for the hit, was serving the second of his two-game suspension by the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
Notes & quotes:A frustrated John Moore put a late, high hit on Dale Weise, drawing a five-minute match penalty, which carries an automatic suspension for the defenseman. . . . Dan Carcillo's appeal of his 10-game suspension for elbowing linesman Scott Driscoll likely will be heard Friday.