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Saturday, May 24, 2014
Derick Brassard: I'm ready to play

By Katie Strang
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Derick Brassard declared himself ready to play in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens. The 26-year-old center missed the past two games after sustaining an undisclosed injury in the series opener last Saturday.

Brassard told reporters after Saturday morning's practice at Madison Square Garden that he would be in the lineup on Sunday against the Habs, though coach Alain Vigneault seemed amused by the declaration.

Derick Brassard
Derick Brassard, out since getting hurt during Game 1, declared himself ready to play in Sunday's Game 4.

"I was told he cleared himself to play. He didn't tell me," Vigneault said, grinning. "That's good news."

Vigneault said he plans to check in with Brassard on Sunday to see how he feels before reinserting him into the lineup, but his return could not come at a better time.

That's because the Rangers will likely be without top center Derek Stepan, who sustained a broken jaw in Game 3 on a hit from former teammate Brandon Prust that earned Prust a two-game suspension.

Vigneault said that Stepan remains in the hospital while recovering from surgery Friday night; he would not speculate about Stepan's status for the remainder of the series.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, Stepan's good friend and teammate, wasn't ready to rule him out, however. After all, Stepan did return to the game after the hit and played the remainder of the team's 3-2 overtime loss with a fractured jaw.

"We don't know for sure what the plan is as far as if he's in or not," McDonagh said. "We're going to prepare as if he's in and get ready for another hard game. If it doesn't work out, we've had different guys step up all throughout the playoffs."

In Stepan's absence, 21-year-old J.T. Miller is expected to join the Rangers lineup. He skated on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett on Saturday, with Dominic Moore moving up to replace Stepan.

Miller said he was not 100 percent sure yet whether he will play Game 4, but will have no problem jumping into the action if his name is called.

"We all know what we're playing for," Miller said. "If anything, that makes it easier."

Prust, a former fan favorite at MSG, will have to sit out both Game 4 and Game 5, but is eligible to return in Game 6, if that game is necessary. The Rangers hold a 2-1 series lead.

Asked if he thought the two-game ban for Prust was sufficient, McDonagh responded: "I think it's fair enough, yeah. I would've rather seen a power play, but obviously you can't control that."