The Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens has been full of injured players. The most important injury on New York’s side is center Derek Stepan, who sustained a broken jaw in Game 3.
Stepan had surgery four days ago and was ruled out indefinitely, but suddenly he may return to the lineup after missing just one game. Stepan traveled with the team to Montreal and participated in the their morning skate today. All are good signs for the Rangers, and Stepan would make an enormous difference if he can play in Game 5.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and could really use Stepan’s help to deliver the final blow to a resilient Montreal team. He wore a plastic guard during the morning skate for extra protection and would play on his usual line centering Chris Kreider and Rick Nash if he dresses for Game 5.
If Stepan can’t go, Dominic Moore will likely take his place on the first line. Moore played in that spot in Stepan’s absence in Game 4 and is very capable of picking up some slack. Still, Stepan would be a huge upgrade and his presence in the lineup makes them that much deeper. The Rangers’ depth is mostly why they’re in the East Finals — that, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Stepan is a valuable faceoff man and a very creative passer in the offensive zone. Those are two things New York needs to execute well to finish off this series. His ability to create open space for himself on the ice is part of what makes Stepan such a dangerous passer.
Montreal forward Brandon Prust injured Stepan and received a two-game suspension for the hit. Stepan’s speedy return seemed very unlikely at first, but if he plays in Game 5, he’ll have missed less time than Prust.
Regardless of that, Stepan is very important to his team in a lot of ways. The Rangers need to finish off the series sooner rather than later and not allow Montreal to gain any confidence or momentum.
Stepan will make a difference if he plays, and he’ll likely be rested after having four days off. He currently has a five-game point streak and has seven points in those five games.