GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The NHL's mysterious mumps epidemic may have claimed another victim on Thursday in the Rangers' Lee Stempniak, just as Derick Brassard, who began showing symptoms on Sunday, was set to be released from his five-day isolation period.
Stempniak will be isolated from the team for five days and tested for mumps, according to the Rangers.
The team's minor-league affiliate in Hartford also has been impacted. Wolfpack coach Ken Gernander and right wing Joey Crabb are being isolated from the AHL team for five days and being tested for mumps.
Brassard, meanwhile, was expected to be released from his five-day period Thursday night and will skate with the team during Friday's practice, coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault said he does not know if Brassard will be in any shape to play during the weekend. "I have not talked to him,'' he said. "I just know . . . that [Thursday] is his last day."
The Rangers play at Carolina Saturday night and host the Hurricanes on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Brassard was forced to leave Edmonton on Sunday and missed the last two games of the trip to Western Canada because of mumps-like symptoms. He officially was diagnosed on Wednesday, becoming the 15th NHL player from five teams to contract the highly contagious virus.
Stempniak would be the 16th and third Ranger, including Tanner Glass, to come down with the illness.
Crabb would be the first case of a player in the AHL contracting the virus.
"It is what it is," Vigneault said, adding that he has no theories as to the origin of the outbreak and that the Rangers are following all the hygiene protocols mandated by the NHL.
"There's a full protocol here that's been installed," he said. "I couldn't tell you what it is, but our medical staff . . . There's a whole bunch of things that they need to do prior to the guys getting there, after they get there, disinfecting, et cetera, et cetera."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said he was vaccinated for mumps last year before the Olympics and, like many of his teammates, received a booster about three or four weeks ago. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the vaccine and booster isn't 100 percent effective, it does significantly decrease the likelihood of contracting the virus.
"I'm not doing anything differently," Lundqvist said. "The trainers here are trying to do a good job right now of keeping everything clean. You can't think too much about it. If you get it, you get it. Obviously, it's not good to see that many players get sick."
Notes & quotes: Though Vigneault would not confirm or deny it, there's a strong chance that Lundqvist will get a breather this weekend after playing the previous four games, including the three in Western Canada. "[Lundqvist's] game is where he needs it to be for us as a team to win, but as a head coach, I also got to look at the big picture,'' he said, "and we have two good goaltenders. And as much as everybody knows that Hank is our No. 1 guy, we need to find games for Cam [Talbot] so that Hank is always in top form. I know what I want to do; I just haven't told them yet."