GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the Rangers return from their “bye’’ week Friday night at Madison Square Garden against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they will be bolstered by the return of forwards Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich, both of whom have missed significant time with injuries.
“I would say, unless something happens from now till then, both those guys should be available to us,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday after the Rangers returned to practice for the first time since their 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday.
Nash missed four games in early December with a groin strain, then came back in the middle of the month and played three games, only to suffer a second groin strain that cost him eight more games. He said he wasn’t completely pain-free when he came back from the initial injury but added that he is pain-free now.
“It feels ready to go,’’ Nash said. “It was a tough practice today. There hasn’t been much practice time, but that’s just the way it goes. You’re always nervous before a game, coming back from an injury, but I’m looking forward to get it going.’’
Nash, who has 13 goals and 20 points in 30 games, said he felt he was playing well before he got injured.
Buchnevich, a promising 21-year-old rookie, missed 26 games before he was assigned to AHL Hartford on Jan. 6 for conditioning. He had a goal and an assist in three games with the Wolf Pack. According to Vigneault, reports said Buchnevich was good in the first game, “just OK’’ in the second and good again in the third.
“He skated well today [at practice], so I think we’re good to go,’’ Vigneault said.
Buchnevich last played for the Rangers Nov. 12. He has four goals and four assists in 10 games this season.
Also close to returning is center Mika Zibanejad, who has been out since Nov. 20 with a broken leg. Zibanejad skated with the team at practice Thursday and said he is medically cleared to return, but Vigneault said Zibanejad won’t play Friday night because he hasn’t practiced.
Vigneault said Zibanejad, who has five goals and 10 assists in 19 games this season, will skate with the team at Friday’s morning skate and that his first practice will be Monday. After that, Vigneault said, he likely will be day-to-day.
There still are holes in the lineup, though. Defenseman Marc Staal is in the NHL’s concussion protocol and forward Jesper Fast was sent home from practice Thursday because he was ill. Vigneault said he lost eight pounds in the previous couple of days.