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Rangers getting healthy for playoffs

Kevin Klein of the Rangers shoots the puck

Kevin Klein of the Rangers shoots the puck against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 2, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers should be at a high-water mark when it comes to overall health when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin Thursday.

When the Rangers gather Tuesday to prepare for a best-of-seven series against the Penguins, they should have all hands on deck at practice, a rarity during the past month.

Defenseman Kevin Klein, sidelined since March 11 by a broken left arm, likely will join his teammates for the first time to determine whether he is ready to dress for Game 1 at the Garden.

Marc Staal and Rick Nash, both of whom were rested the last two games, will be in uniform. At various times since Klein's departure, Martin St. Louis (eight games, sprained knee) and Mats Zuccarello (two games) didn't dress, and Henrik Lundqvist (vascular injury) has played only seven games since returning March 26.

In the past month, however, the Rangers went 11-5 to finish with 53 wins and 113 points, both franchise records, and earned home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

"It's going to be nice to have our full team back for the game on Thursday,'' Derick Brassard said after Saturday's season finale, a 4-2 win at Washington.

Conversely, the Penguins, who lost in seven games to the Rangers in the second round last year, have been plagued by injuries and stumbled to the finish line. They didn't secure the East's last wild-card spot until Saturday, when they shut out the last-place Sabres. Sidney Crosby, third in the league with 84 points, has tried to carry them, but the burden is heavy.

With the addition of Keith Yandle at the trade deadline, the Rangers improved on the blue line, while the Penguins have suffered there. Two of their top defensemen -- Kris Letang (concussion) and Olli Maatta (shoulder surgery) -- are out, and first-year coach Mike Johnston has missed Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) and Derick Pouliot (undisclosed) recently. Depth is an issue.

Up front, Pascal Dupuis has been sidelined with a blood clot. Banged-up center Evgeny Malkin has missed 13 games and Patrick Hornqvist missed four games in March.

David Perron and Daniel Winnik, who were acquired to bolster the forward lines, have not put up the numbers. Perron has two goals since March 12; Winnik has two since March 1.

The Penguins did not fare well against the Rangers, going 1-2-1. They lost to Lundqvist, 5-0, on Nov. 11 at the Garden before winning a bizarre, stop-and-restart shootout at Consol Energy Center two days later. The Rangers already had their skates off and their sticks put away after Dan Boyle appeared to score the deciding goal in the shootout. Then officials called the team back to the ice, ruling that Boyle shot the puck twice. The Penguins ended up winning the shootout, 3-2.

On Dec. 8, the Rangers won, 4-3, at home on Klein's overtime goal, and concluded the season series with a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh on Jan. 18.

The break before Game 1 could help some Penguins to heal, but the key player may well be goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, with a league-leading 10 shutouts to go with 34 wins, a 2.32 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

New York Sports