NEW YORK — Leading scorer Artemi Panarin was back at practice on Sunday and will return to the New York Rangers lineup on Tuesday, when they open up their first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Panarin left the Rangers’ 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last Tuesday at Madison Square Garden with an upper-body injury.
Linemate Andrew Copp (lower-body) also left in the second period of that loss and did not return for the Rangers, who settled for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division as a result of the loss.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after the loss that he didn’t believe either injury was serious, and that both players could have returned. But given the situation, with the playoffs on the horizon, the club wanted to be “cautious.” Gallant followed through with that strategy and sat both players in the regular season’s final two games.
But both were back on the ice Sunday, and should be in line for their traditional roles Tuesday at home vs. the Penguins.
“I feel the best I have all year,” Panarin told reporters after practice. “I’m ready to go. Emotions are pretty high. I’m just excited, and then of course, if in your head everything is right, your body feels better.”
Panarin, a staple on the No. 1 power play unit, was the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, with 96 points. He averaged 19:06 time on the ice. Copp, acquired at the trade deadline from the Winnipeg Jets, has flourished playing with Panarin. In 16 regular-season games with New York, he had eight goals and 18 points.
“It was not a severe injury by any means,” said Copp, who gets to play in the postseason after a season that started with the now-eliminated Jets.
The resurgent Rangers, who hired Gallant last offseason after dismissing coach David Quinn, are back in the playoffs after missing altogether last season and losing in the postseason bubble’s play-in round the year before to the Hurricanes. New York challenged for the No. 1 seed in the East most of this season, and battled the Hurricanes for the division crown well into the last week. As it is, the Rangers settled for home-ice advantage against the Penguins.
“I think the 16 teams that made the playoffs have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and that’s my honest opinion,” Gallant said. “I think we’re as good as anybody in the playoffs, and I think anybody in the playoffs can beat us. It’s who’s playing well at the right time, and doing the right things.”
Gallant led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018. The Rangers last appeared in the league’s championship series in 2014.
In Game 1, the Rangers will face Pittsburgh’s backup goaltender. While All-Star netminder Tristan Jarry hasn’t ruled out of the series yet, he will not start it, according to Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan characterized Jarry as day-to-day on Sunday, but indicated the veteran would not be available in New York. Jarry hasn’t played since being diagnosed with a lower-body injury following a victory over the New York Islanders on April 14.
Casey DeSmith will get the nod form the opener. DeSmith made one appearance against the Rangers this season, playing 4:19 against New York on March 25 before leaving following a collision with a teammate. DeSmith is 3-2-1 with a 3.45 goals-against average and a pedestrian .886 save percentage in seven career appearances against New York.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.