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Mika Zibanejad misses 13th straight game for Rangers, but return is near

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad looks on before a

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad looks on before a face-off against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 12, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Mika Zibanejad missed his 13th consecutive game Monday night when the Rangers hosted Mats Zuccarello and the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden, but his time out of the lineup is nearing the end, according to coach David Quinn.

Quinn said the Rangers are targeting their No. 1 center's return for Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Zibanejad skated at the team’s optional practice Thursday, but did not accompany the team to Ottawa and Montreal over the weekend. He took part in Monday’s morning skate and spoke to the media afterward. It was his first public comments since he suffered an upper body injury after taking a hit from Boston’s Patrice Bergeron on Oct. 27.

“Been itching every day,’’ Zibanejad said when asked if he’s been antsy as he waited for the moment to return. “Obviously, being out there with the guys again, even last week, was nice.’’

Zibanejad would not reveal what his actual injury was. Quinn twice denied that it was a concussion, the second time saying it was more of a neck problem.

“I don't want to go into details, but I think you guys can figure out. It was an upper body [injury],’’ Zibanejad said. “I'm not going to go into more details than that.’’

Zibanejad has had multiple concussions in his career, the last one coming in November of 2017. He missed three weeks with that injury, which was his fifth concussion. That was his first season as the No. 1 center, and he was playing well at the time, having scored 22 points in the season’s first 24 games.

Zibanejad was off to a hot start this season, leading the Rangers in scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in nine games. After the injury, he was initially listed as “day-to-day.’’ After about a week, he began skating on his own, and he skated with the team wearing a no-contact jersey in a morning skate prior to a game against Detroit on Nov. 6. But then he backed off. He returned to the ice the following week and skated again in a no-contact jersey at a Nov. 13 practice, before the team went to Florida for a two-game trip.

He wouldn’t describe his backing off skating for a week as a setback.

“Setback ... I don't know,’’ he said. “Obviously you're ... trying to see how much -- through the injury -- how much you can take, and what the level is at. There were a lot of days that I went without a day off, so, I just got some rest, really.

“And I wouldn't call it a setback, but you're trying to get back and at times you maybe push harder than you should, just to try where your limit's at, and that's what we did.’’

Where Zibanejad will fit in the lineup has been a topic of speculation The team has gone 7-4-1 in the 12 games he has missed, and the top three lines that Quinn put together without him – with Ryan Strome playing as the No. 1 center between Artemi Panarin and Jesper Fast – have played well together.

“That’s a question for the coach. I'm just worried about getting back,’’ Zibanejad said when asked where he thought he might fit upon his return. “But, obviously, it's nice to see the team winning ... You’d rather come [back] into a confident group, and I think it's going to make the transition easier.’’

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