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Rangers will have Derick Brassard, but Derek Stepan's status is unclear

Rangers' Derick Brassard celebrates his first-period goal against

Rangers' Derick Brassard celebrates his first-period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 12, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers will have center Derick Brassard back for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Canadiens Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, but the status of the team's top center, Derek Stepan, remains in doubt.

Stepan, whose jaw was broken by Brandon Prust's shoulder check in Thursday night's Game 3, still was hospitalized Saturday after surgery, coach Alain Vigneault said, and is "unlikely" to play for the Rangers, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

With the chatter ramping up from the Canadiens, the Rangers seemed to be focusing on a rebound -- and a 3-1 edge in the series -- rather than revenge.

Asked if he foresees any retribution for Prust's hit, which has been condemned as dirty by Stepan's teammates and drew a two-game suspension from the league, forward Brian Boyle said: "Retribution is winning Game 4."

After losing the first two games at Bell Centre, the Canadiens beat the Rangers, 3-2, in overtime Thursday night at the Garden. A second consecutive loss at home would be damaging for the Rangers. It would square the series at 2-2 and return the home-ice advantage to the Canadiens, with Game 5 in Montreal on Tuesday night.

"The only way to really respond [to Prust's hit] is by playing the scoreboard, playing to win. That's what we talked about here this morning," said Ryan McDonagh, who was Stepan's teammate at the University of Wisconsin. "It's an unfortunate hit that you don't want to see in the game. We're going to prepare as if he's in. If it doesn't work out, we've had different guys step up throughout the playoffs."

Dominic Moore skated in Stepan's slot during Saturday's practice, and with fourth-liner Dan Carcillo suspended for 10 games for elbowing linesman Scott Driscoll, winger J.T. Miller was inserted on the fourth line. If Stepan is deemed healthy enough to dress, Moore will drop back to the fourth line and Miller will be a healthy scratch.

If Stepan, who has a goal and three assists against Montreal, cannot play, Brassard's presence on his usual line with Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello will help fill the gap in the middle.

Brassard, who had four goals and three assists in the first two playoff rounds, has played only 35 seconds in this series because of what is believed to be a shoulder injury after being jolted by a check from defenseman Mike Weaver in Game 1. He declared after practice that he will play Sunday night.

"He cleared himself to you [the media] before he spoke to me, so he must be feeling better than he was yesterday," Vigneault said.

"It's going to be pretty intense," said Brassard, who said he is 100 percent recovered. "Hopefully Step's going to be OK and he'll be back really fast for us, but we turned the page, and I think we're pretty pumped for [Sunday night].''

In the series, the Rangers have led for 104:21 to the Canadiens' 2:50. They had 37 shots on rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski in Game 3 and thought they had good looks but had too many missed nets and untouched rebounds.

"We stay the course," said Martin St. Louis, who has played with a heavy heart since the death of his mother during the Pittsburgh series. "We played a good game. It's not difficult to come back. There was desperation last game. We've got to keep matching their work ethic. You know you're going to get good goaltending. You're not getting freebies. Everybody faces adversity, and we've faced plenty."

Notes & quotes: Chris Kreider did not practice, taking a "maintenance" day, but Vigneault said he isn't concerned . . . Henrik Lundqvist, who has played in all 17 playoff games, said the two-day break was good "physically and mentally."


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