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Brendan Lemieux feels good, says he's ready to return to Rangers' lineup

Brendan Lemieux #48 of the Rangers celebrates his

Brendan Lemieux #48 of the Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Vegas Golden Knights at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Brendan Lemieux playfully grabbed Kaapo Kakko by the shoulder and yanked him around after practice ended Saturday, half-kidding and half-serious, as he tried to show the 18-year-old a few tricks of the fighting trade if he ever finds himself in a compromising situation.

“Yeah, yeah, just kind of goofing around,’’ Lemieux said with a chuckle. “But I just think, it’s not that he’s ever going to need to — I hope he never has to — but there’s a certain confidence that comes with being able to protect yourself. He’s a big enough, strong enough kid that I think he’s capable. So I think it’s important that he knows that.’’

Kakko, the No. 2 overall draft pick last summer, seemed more amused than anything else, and he certainly won’t be looking to drop the gloves anytime soon.

More than anything, the interaction served notice that Lemieux, who has been out of commission since suffering a broken bone in his left hand against Carolina on Dec. 27, is ready to return to action after missing the last nine games.

“I’d love to,’’ Lemieux said when asked if he will be ready to play Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I’m not sure what our plan is yet, but I feel great on the ice . . . I’m chomping at the bit. I’m just really excited to get back in.’’

When asked if Lemieux could be activated off injured reserve and put into the lineup against the Blue Jackets, coach David Quinn said, “We’ll see.’’

Whenever he returns, Quinn will have to figure out whether to reunite Lemieux with Filip Chytil and Kakko. While Lemieux was out, Brett Howden took his place on the line and the trio has been effective of late.

“These three guys are playing well together,’’ Quinn said. “It’s a good line, there’s good chemistry there, so . . . it is going to be a good problem to have.’’

Shesterkin to make start

Igor Shesterkin will start in goal against the Blue Jackets, Quinn said.

“He’s played well since he’s been here, and we have a lot of faith and confidence in him,’’ Quinn said. Shesterkin had been scratched the past three games after winning his first two starts on Jan. 7 and 9.

The decision means Henrik Lundqvist will be backing up for the third straight game and will have started twice in the last 10 games as the Rangers continue to juggle three goalies.

Quinn said his conversations with the 37-year-old Lundqvist have become increasingly difficult.

“They’re not easy discussions, but Hank and I have also had good conversations regarding the situation we’re in,’’ he said. “He is in a situation where he’s not, obviously, played the amount that he’s played in the past. That doesn’t mean he’s not still a really good goalie. We have faith in him, but . . . just the way it’s kind of evolved, this is the situation we’re in. And as he and I have talked about, when he gets in there, if he plays to his ability, he’s gonna play.’’

Panarin leaves practice

Artemi Panarin left practice early Saturday with what Quinn described as “an upper-body thing.’’ Quinn said Panarin will play against Columbus, his former team.

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