Like many of us covering the Rangers, I believed Monday when Derek Stepan traveled here that without an unforseen setback, he would play in Game 5.
Well, the center was on ice for Tuesday's morning skate, with visor and protective jaw guard, was talking with teammates, and in his regular spot between Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. His friend Ryan McDonagh called it "a great sign" and commented on his toughness and his iron-man record of consecutive games.
Yes, he's on a soft diet and may need extra hydration. But the extra protection isn't an issue.
Stands to reason that if Stepan returned to play in Game 3 after the blow from Brandon Prust that fractured his jaw (apparently a four-inch hairline crack), he'll play in a huge Game 5 with a Stanley Cup Final berth on the line and the break repaired, doesn't it?
What do you think?
Here's what Vigneault said less than an hour ago:
Q. Is Stepan a go for tonight?
COACH VIGNEAULT: There are a lot of things that have to happen for him to play tonight. We are going to talk to him this afternoon and see how he reacted to the practice. Nutrition, obviously, is an issue at this time, so later on today we’ll talk to our doctors and we’ll talk to him and we’ll see how it works out.
Q. You’ve been in this position before, but how tough is it to get that final win to knock a team out?
COACH VIGNEAULT: You know, the NHL 2013-2014 started the first of October with a game between Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in an Original Six match-up. Today is the 27th of May, you know? We’re the first team this year that has an opportunity to win one and move on to the Stanley Cup Final. We’re going to be ready.
Q. When you still have that one win to go, can you allow yourself to think of how close you are to this ultimate prize?
COACH VIGNEAULT: We are thinking about what we need to do on the ice. We went through a very specific game plan with our team this morning, the areas that we want to focus on. Players are aware. They know that they need to focus on that and they know they need to stay in the moment, and they’re going to be ready for it.
Q. It would be a huge benefit to have your four full lines together. How do you guard against wanting that too much to insert Stepan back in?
COACH VIGNEAULT: Yeah, well, the only way he’s going to play tonight is if he gets full medical clearance. That’s not going to be up to him. It’s going to be up to our medical staff to make sure that they feel he can play. Like I said before, there are a lot of things that have to fall into place for him to play tonight.
Q. What kind of consultation does he have to go through, Alain? And you say it’s not up to him. He’s going to want to play.
COACH VIGNEAULT: Yeah, I couldn’t give you the full dynamics of this. I know we’ve got three doctors that are here that have obviously been talking to him since the operation. To get into the specifics, I couldn’t tell you. I mean, they’re going to talk between the player and the doctors, and obviously our therapist, and they’re going to make the call.
Q. Taking the medical equation out of it, with your eyes on the ice this morning, what did you see from Step? Did you see a player who was ready?
COACH VIGNEAULT: You know, it’s a morning skate. I mean, we’ve made sure today that we’d put him through in a normal situation, normal lines, normal work. See how he reacted and we’ll find out here in probably the next five, six hours.
Q. Just how important is Step to your lineup?
COACH VIGNEAULT: I mean, he’s been—I could be wrong here. I think the last game he missed was his first one in four years, right? He’s played all the games I’ve been here except for the last one, and prior to that he’s played all the games since he’s been a New York Ranger. He’s a good, young player that is a big part of our team. He plays huge minutes, plays five-on-five, power play, penalty killing. He’s the only right-handed face-off guy. So he’s a big part of our team and has been a big part of our team’s success.