With Monday’s trade deadline approaching, selling teams around the NHL have begun holding players out of games to protect them from injury, and many observers expected the Rangers to do the same.
With only three games left before the deadline, why would the Blueshirts take a chance that Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes or Adam McQuaid — the three players everyone expects to be traded — might get injured?
Yet the Rangers did dress all three in Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild at the Garden. Maybe with all the scouts — and Flames general manager Brad Treliving — in the building, the Rangers wanted to showcase them one last time.
If so, they dodged a bullet when McQuaid left the game late in the first period with what coach David Quinn described as an upper-body injury. It isn’t serious, Quinn said, and the 6-4, 210-pound McQuaid could have returned. But the team decided against it for what Quinn said were precautionary reasons.
Quinn was asked if the McQuaid injury, slight as it may have been, was a scare.
“For me, it’s a scare, because he’s a player, and any time a guy gets hurt, you’re always scared for them to some degree,’’ he said. “But the good news is, between the periods I found out it was nothing serious and he’s going to be fine.’’
It was an uncomfortable night all around for all of the Rangers. Quinn didn’t seem to enjoy talking about the impending trade deadline, nor did Zuccarello.
Zuccarello was asked if he thought he might be held out of the game. “I’m not the GM or the coach of this team, so you’ve got to ask them,’’ he said. “I’m going to try and do my best as long as I’m here and as long as they tell me I’m in the lineup.’’
Asked if he found himself looking around, contemplating whether this might have been his last home game as a Ranger, he didn’t say no.
“Aahh, I mean, you never know,’’ he said. “It’s the situation it is, so — I have fun every time I play hockey. I have fun every time I’m in this rink. And whatever happens happens. It’s nothing I can control, and you’ve got to ask some other people if this was my last game here.’’
After the morning skate, Quinn surprised some people at his news conference when he said he intended to dress the three players for the game. “We’re going to put the best lineup we can tonight and march forward,’’ he said. “Until I’m told differently.’’
Little more than an hour after he said that, though, the Rangers announced they had called up center Lias Andersson from Hartford, which led to immediate speculation that management had changed its mind.
Because the club had only 22 healthy players available, that meant if Zuccarello, Hayes and McQuaid were to sit out, someone would have to be called up in order for the Rangers to dress the maximum 18 skaters for the game. When Andersson was recalled, it seemed logical that the three would be held out.
But they weren’t. McQuaid and Zuccarello were in the starting lineup, but McQuaid didn’t make it out of the first period.
He apparently injured himself while being called for a tripping penalty at 13:12 that gave the Wild a power play (on which they scored, with Jared Spurgeon jamming in a loose puck before Henrik Lundqvist could cover it up). McQuaid skated to the bench after leaving the penalty box, but at the next TV timeout, he went to the locker room. The Rangers announced early in the second period that he would not be returning.
The Wild scored again at 15:53, but the Rangers challenged the play, claiming offside. They won the challenge, and Pavel Buchnevich scored a power-play goal at 5:06 of the second period to tie it at 1-1.
Minnesota regained the lead at 8:41 when Mikael Granlund lifted a rebound over Lundqvist (31 saves) for his 15th goal. Zach Parise scored off a turnover to make it 3-1 at 11:03 of the third after Brady Skjei was tripped but no call was made. It seemed a crucial non-call, but the Rangers all said they weren’t playing well enough to win the game anyway, so the non-call wasn’t what cost them the game.
They had a great chance to get back in the game when Ryan Donato was given a double-minor penalty for high sticking after cutting Jimmy Vesey at 12:27 of the third. But the Rangers failed to score, and Jordan Greenway scored an empty-net goal with 2:37 to play.
Notes & quotes: D Neal Pionk returned after sitting out Tuesday’s game with an eye injury suffered Sunday in Pittsburgh . . . D Brendan Smith, D Freddie Claesson and F Boo Nieves were the three healthy scratches . . . F Brett Howden skated with the team for the first time since he was hurt in the first game after the All-Star break. He wore a no-contact jersey.