‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Derick Brassard has been itching to return to the Rangers’ lineup. Now healthy, the 26-year-old center will finally get his chance to make his mark on this series when he takes the ice for pivotal Game 4.
On Saturday, Brassard told reporters that he will be able to play against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night. Brassard proclaiming his full health to the media was news to surprised head coach Alain Vigneault.
“I was told he cleared himself, so it’s good to know,” Vigneault said. “He didn’t tell me. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I was told that he cleared himself to you guys, so that’s good news. I’ll talk to him probably tomorrow and find out and make sure everything’s good. Players at this time want to play, and we’ve got to make sure that everything’s alright.”
Brassard’s return couldn’t come at a more important time for the Blueshirts. First line center Derek Stepan underwent surgery on a fractured jaw on Friday, and is doubtful for Game 4. Brassard can be a difference maker for the Rangers because of his creativity, vision and penchant for “dirty nose goals” by the crease.
This series has been frustrating for Brassard. He has played only 35 seconds. He took two shifts in the series opener, before a high hit by Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver knocked him out with what was likely a left shoulder injury.
Since then, Brassard has spent the majority of the series watching games from the press box in a suit and tie.
This series is especially important to Brassard, who was raised in Gatineau, Quebec. Brassard said he admired the Canadiens throughout his youth and idolized Patrick Roy, playing goalie in the family basement.
A low point for Brassard was being forced to observe Game 2 from the Bell Center press box. He said he was eager to play in front of a large gathering of family and friends in Montreal.
“I was pretty mad about it,” Brassard said. “But injuries are a part of the game and I try to just to heal quicker and get back out there and help my teammates.”
Vigneault and the Rangers have recognized Brassard’s vital contributions throughout the regular season and playoffs, acknowledging that he’s a key playmaker, with a reputation for big-game heroics.
“He’s been a big part of our offensive success,” Vigneault said on Thursday. “So we’re a better team when he’s in our lineup.”
His desperation to make a mark in this series has been building and his teammates have noticed it.
“He loves it,” forward Brian Boyle said earlier this season. “It’s in his blood.”
Brassard has four goals and seven points in 15 games during these playoffs. Two of his goals have been game-winners. Last spring he notched 12 points in 12 postseason games. During the Rangers’ latest run, Brassard has been a crucial component on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello — the Rangers’ most consistent line all season.
“He’s been a guy we’ve counted on all year long to bring offense and score goals,” alternate captain Marc Staal said. “Him and his line have been great all playoffs here. Derick is absolutely a guy that we need. He’s played great.”
WITH STEPAN DOUBTFUL, EXPECT J.T. MILLER PLAY IN GAME 4
On Saturday, Vigneault described the chances of Stepan playing in Game 4 as “doubtful” and “unlikely.” He wasn’t able to offer an update on Stepan’s timetable.
“He’s in the hospital right now recovering from surgery, so that’s all I’ve got,” Vigneault said.
J.T. Miller is ready to enter the Rangers’ lineup on Sunday. The 21-year-old forward skated on Boyle’s left wing during Saturday’s practice, with Derek Dorsett on his opposite wing.
Miller has two assists and is a plus-3 in three playoff games.
It is unclear whether the Rangers have officially appealed Dan Carcillo’s 10-game ban. Losing Carcillo might be a blessing in disguise for the Blueshirts, as Miller is a superior possession player with greater offensive gifts.
Vigneault praised Miller for his natural abilities and his excellence in the dirty areas.
“When we’ve used him in other games he’s been all right,” Vigneault said. “He’s got a good skill set. He’s got a good shot, goes to the net hard. Doesn’t mind going into tough areas. He’s a good player. He’s a young player. He’s been working with us throughout the playoffs, and he’s been in all the video sessions. He’s been in everything. He knows what to expect from the Habs in this series. We’re definitely going to use him tomorrow, and hopefully he’ll be good for us.”
In early April, Vigneault pointed out that Miller needed to improve his commitment levels to become a regular NHL player.
It appears that Miller has earned back Vigneault’s trust.
“I mean, he’s under the most intense time of the year,” Vigneault said. “I mean, he’s been focused and he’s been working very hard. So if you want to call that better maturity, yes, I would say it’s just part of the process of a young player as he’s trying to become a good pro.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey
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