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Rangers' Mika Zibanejad has false positive COVID test; he can play Sunday

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad faces off

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad faces off against Florida Panthers center Anton Lundell in the third period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers got a scare Saturday when Mika Zibanejad was placed in COVID protocol before practice. Hours later, the team announced that Zibanejad had had a false positive result. He was taken off the protocol list and is eligible to play Sunday when the Rangers face the Buffalo Sabres at the Garden.

Zibanejad did not practice in the morning, but the team didn’t seem too concerned. Greg McKegg skated in his place on the first line, between Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow, while all of the other lines remained intact.

Because of NHL rules, coach Gerard Gallant was prohibited from giving any other information about Zibanejad other than to say he was in the protocol. Gallant did say he was not concerned about possibly not having Zibanejad available against the Sabres.

Asked hypothetically what losing Zibanejad would mean to the team, Kreider said, "I don’t usually talk in hypotheticals, but I think I’ve spoken on what he means to our group. Obviously, it would be a big curveball for us, but I’m pretty confident he’s going to be able to play."

Zibanejad is fourth on the Rangers in scoring with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and has had a big hand in helping Kreider put up a team-high 12 goals. Losing him for any prolonged time would be devastating to the team.

Zibanejad did have COVID last season. He missed all of training camp and said after the season that it took him just about half the season to get past the lingering effects and get back to his normal game. A strong second half allowed him to reach 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in 56 games.

The Rangers also lost Ryan Strome for four games last month when he had COVID.

The reason the Rangers were practicing at their Westchester County facility Saturday was because of COVID. They had been scheduled to play the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday but the game was postponed, along with three other Senators games, because Ottawa had 10 players on the protocol list.

The game has yet to be rescheduled.

"We’ve seen what’s happened with Ottawa, so [we’re] just continuing to be smart," Kreider said. "The team’s going good [10-4-3], and it seems like we’re getting better every game. So there’s no reason to put ourselves in a position to have to make changes and make adjustments when you don’t have to.

"But a lot of times, those are things we can’t control, right? Stuff like that happens over the course of a season. So just come in and do the job every day."

New York Sports