GREENBURGH, N.Y. - When Keith Yandle, a top defenseman with Arizona, was acquired by the Rangers on March 1, Matt Hunwick thought his opportunities to play would be significantly reduced.
"It didn't look like I'd play too much," said Hunwick, 29, who had played 21 straight games when Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonagh were sidelined with injuries in October and November before being rotated in and out of the lineup with John Moore for three months. "Maybe a game or two here and there. But I take great pride in staying ready."
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Hunwick, who played with the Bruins and Avalanche and was signed as a free agent last summer, was back in the lineup right away, playing about 14 minutes a night with Yandle after Kevin Klein was sidelined with a broken arm on March 11. With Klein still out, Hunwick will play his first postseason game since 2010 Thursday night against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.
"Excitement's the best word," said Hunwick, who had six assists in 13 games in the 2010 playoffs. "It's been five years since I've been in the playoffs. I'll just try to take advantage of it."
During the season, coach Alain Vigneault had said that neither Hunwick nor Moore had made a strong case to be the regular seventh defenseman. But Hunwick, who is more adept defensively, hung in, and Moore was included in the Yandle deal.
Hunwick, a lefty, has not looked out of place on the right side with fellow lefty Yandle. "It's not like it's the first time," Hunwick said. "It's helped a ton, getting the reps in playing on the right with Keith. We've had a few weeks; I feel very comfortable."
Klein, who did not practice Wednesday and has been ruled out for Game 1, is listed as day-to-day. His status for Saturday's Game 2 is unclear, and Hunwick could play again.
Hunwick is familiar with the Penguins, having played against them in three of the four games this season. "It starts with the two guys in the middle, 87 and 71 [Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin], but their third-line center [Brandon Sutter] has 21 goals, too, so we have to get good gaps on them and hopefully dictate the pace of the game."
Dan Girardi said that with Hunwick, "we have six good D now, we've been playing some good hockey. Seems like it's been a long time since we last played, we're anxious to get going. We're going to take it as a challenge. It all comes down to who wants it more."