Blake Wheeler #17 of the Rangers is defended by Sam...

Blake Wheeler #17 of the Rangers is defended by Sam Bennett #9 of the Florida Panthers during the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena on May 28, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. ( Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

SUNRISE, Fla. — Rangers coach Peter Laviolette made a change to his lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final Tuesday, inserting forward Blake Wheeler, who hasn’t played since suffering a major leg injury in mid-February, and taking out forward Filip Chytil, who himself has been playing after returning from a long-term injury.

Wheeler took the hooking penalty against Aleksander Barkov in OT that the Panthers capitalized on during the power play in their 3-2 win.

“Fil's coming back after such a long lay off and (this is) what we feel is best for him to continue to move forward for us,’’ Laviolette explained when asked about the change. “You're asking a lot for a guy that missed six months to come back and get up to that speed. And so this is part of the plan.’’

Chytil, who returned to the lineup in Game 3 of the Rangers’ second-round series, against Carolina, had played in the first three games of the current series, and four games in the playoffs overall, without scoring a point.

He was shut down for the season by the team in late January, after he’d been unable to return following his suffering what is believed to be a concussion in early November. But he returned to practice with the team in mid-April, just before the regular season was over.

Wheeler has been working hard to make himself an option to play since rejoining the team for practice on May 6. He first started practicing wearing a red, no-contact jersey, but he started wearing a regular colored jersey and began practicing full-contact May 13.

Wheeler, 37, joined the Rangers on a one-year, $800,000 contract last summer as a free agent, after he was bought out by Winnipeg. He played 54 games in the regular season, scoring nine goals and 21 points.

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