Kreider nearing return?

NEW YORK -- Could injured New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider be close to making his return?

It certainly sounded that way Tuesday, when coach Alain Vigneault said the 23-year-old winger would visit the doctors “soon,” presumably to receive medical clearance to play.

Kreider has not played since March 24 after sustaining an injury to his left hand during the regular season.

“I think we are going to know here in a short time frame,” Vigneault said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

Though Kreider has been skating regularly, his stickhandling and ability to shoot had been limited. Kreider appears to be making progress in those areas, however.

Chris Kreider

Chris Kreider

#20 LW
New York Rangers

2014 STATS

  • GM66
  • G17

  • A20

  • PTS37

  • +/-14

  • PIM72

“Stickhandling and things like that, I know he’s been doing a little bit of that on his own, but he is coming along,” Vigneault said.

Vigneault wouldn't commit to anything, but he said Kreider’s status for this series should be determined within the next day or two.

Getting back Kreider, who had a tremendous 17-goal, 37-point season before he was sidelined by the hand injury, would provide the Rangers a massive boost offensively.

The Boxford, Massachusetts, native brings both speed and size to the Rangers’ top-six group of forwards, and he provides the type of robust net presence that is invaluable this time of year.

The Rangers have suffered back-to-back shutouts against Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, and they have been blanked on 34 straight power-play attempts.

“His size and speed obviously would put pressure on their defense,” Vigneault said. “Kreids was real good with net presence on the power play, so he would definitely bring a lot to our lineup, no doubt there.”

The Rangers can’t bank on his return, however, with a critical Game 4 looming Wednesday at Madison Square Garden and the team now trailing the Penguins 2-1 in the series.

After playing their sixth game in nine nights, a schedule that Vigneault blasted as “stupid” following Monday’s Game 3 loss, the Rangers have a full day off to rest and recover before trying to even up the series before they head back to Pittsburgh.

Veteran Dominic Moore said he felt the group did a “pretty good job” handling the tight turnaround between Games 2 and 3 and is re-energized heading into Wednesday’s game.

“That’s behind us,” Moore said on a conference call. “We’re feeling good and looking forward to tomorrow night.”

Without a goal against Fleury in the past pair of games, expect the Rangers to get more traffic in front of the Penguins netminder in Game 4. Fleury has been superb the last few games in what is quickly becoming one of the most compelling storylines of the series.

The 29-year-old, who won a Stanley Cup championship with Pittsburgh in 2009, has stumbled the past few springs during postseason play. Amid questions about his ability to handle the pressure, Fleury was the subject of even more scrutiny after a few cringe-worthy moments in the Penguins’ first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But he has silenced some critics recently. And the Rangers know they have to do a better job of making him work for his saves.

“We can still play better,” fourth-line forward Brian Boyle said. “We know that and we’re striving to do that.”