Rick Nash is “very, very close” to returning, coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday, and is expected to join the team when it leave Wednesday for a two-game trip to play in Dallas on Thursday and in Nashville on Saturday.
The big winger, who has 11 goals and seven assists in 27 games, tweaked his groin against the Islanders last Tuesday. He underwent an MRI and the team estimated that he would be out about a week; he has missed four games.
Nash skated on his own Sunday and wore a red non-contact jersey for Tuesday’s morning skate, and presumably will participate in a full practice Wednesday before he is cleared to play. He had two goals and four points in his last four games.
None of the other three injured Blueshirts forwards (Mika Zibanejad, broken leg, Nov. 20), Pavel Buchnevich (back, Nov. 12) and Matt Puempel (concussion, Dec. 6) is as close to returning, although Puempel also wore a red jersey for Tuesday’s morning skate, his first practice since the incident. Vigneault said Puempel, who was cross-checked in the chin by Brock Nelson during the Islanders game, was continuing post-concussion protocol.
Adam Clendening, subbing for Ryan McDonagh (flu), played just 11:15 against the Blackhawks as four defensemen shouldered the minutes: Nick Holden led with 26:24 and Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein all played 23-plus. Holden and Klein totaled 13 hits . . . Oscar Lindberg, who won nine of 14 faceoffs, also had the lone assist on Jesper Fast’s goal . . . Jimmy Vesey had a team-leading seven shots.