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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

New York Rangers: Two Key Players Could Return vs. Panthers

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Blake Wheeler tries to stand after injuring his right leg in the first period against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 15 in New York. The former Winnipeg captain could be back for the first time when the Rangers open against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

The New York Rangers had two key players back on the ice Sunday morning as they started prep for the upcoming Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers.

Both Blake Wheeler and Filip Chytil practiced Sunday with coach Peter Laviolette saying the two were working toward a return for the upcoming series.

The Panthers had Sunday off but return to practice today.

“It’s amazing to see the work that he’s put in, the way he attacked this,” Laviolette said of Wheeler per NHL.com. “He’s now back and he’s on the ice and is working every day to make himself come into the conversation, and that’s awesome.

“This is a guy that has been around this game for a long time, and he’s done some amazing things. He also realizes that this is an opportunity and he’s going to do everything he can to make himself a possibility.”

Wheeler, Paul Maurice’s former captain in Winnipeg, has been out since Feb. 15 with an injured leg sustained against the Montreal Canadiens.

He shed his no-contact jersey Sunday and was taken off Injured Reserve.

“I think that’s been my goal the whole time since I got hurt: to be an option and be available again,’’ Wheeler told reporters Sunday. “That’s where we’re at. It is going to be in the coach’s hands from here, but I’m ready in any capacity I can to help out.’’

Chytil had been out with concussion issues for much of the season but returned to the lineup and played 12:02 in New York’s win in Game 3 against the Hurricanes.

He did not play in the following three games of that series.

“Pretty awesome,” Vincent Trocheck said following Game 3. “It was tough for him earlier in the year. It was tough for all of us to see him go down like that. All we could really do was support him. Seeing him come back … Looked like the old Fil, and he kind of spoke up and said that he felt he could play again. Obviously, if he’s able to play, he makes our team better so, we want him out there.”

Wheeler signed a free agent deal with the Rangers during the offseason after the Jets bought out the final year of his five-year contract of which he was owed $8.25 million.

He had 16 goals in 72 games in what was his 12th and final season with the Jets; he scored nine in 54 with the Rangers before being hurt.

“I just want to be back with the guys,’’ Wheeler said Sunday, “with the group on the ice with them, in any capacity I can. They’re a heck of a group in here. I’ve had just a blast playing with these guys all year.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
GAME 1
  • When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • National TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Panthers at Rangers, Wednesday, 8 (ESPN); Game 2: Panthers at Rangers, Friday 8 (ESPN); Game 3: Rangers at Panthers, Sunday May 26, 3 (ABC); Game 4: Rangers at Panthers, Tuesday May 28, 8 (ESPN): Game 5*: Panthers at Rangers, Thursday May 30, 8 (ESPN); Game 6*: Rangers at Panthers, Saturday June 1, 8 (ABC); Game 7*: Panthers at Rangers, Monday June 3, 8 (ESPN). (*) — If Necessary.
  • Second Round, Florida d. Boston 4-2 — Game 1: Boston 5, @Florida 1; Game 2: @Florida 6, Boston 1; Game 3: Florida 6, @Boston 2; Game 4: Florida 3, @Boston 2; Game 5: Boston 2, @Florida 1; Game 6: Florida 2, @Boston 1.
  • How They Got Here: Florida d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2; Rangers d. Washington 4-0, Carolina 4-2.
  • Last Season vs. Rangers — Regular Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Rangers 4, Panthers 3 OT (March 23).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 61-34-8, 6 ties
  • Postseason History: Rangers Lead 1-0 (1997 1st)

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