Injured Rangers forward takes next step on ‘lonely road’ back

NHL: New York Rangers at Calgary Flames
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Wheeler not only practiced with the New York Rangers at their morning skate ahead of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. The veteran forward did so wearing a regular jersey for the first time since sustaining a significant lower-body injury in February.

That’s some major progress for the 37-year-old, though there’s no timeline for him to return in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the more the Rangers keep winning and advancing, the better chance Wheeler has of becoming an option for coach Peter Laviolette.

“It’s really good,” Laviolette said about Wheeler’s latest step Monday. “It’s a long road and, sometimes, it’s a lonely road too, where we’re going about our business and he’s off in a different room doing his thing at different times.

“It’s nice to have him out there and available and good to go in full.”

Related: Filip Chytil not likely to play in Game 5 for Rangers but does return to ice

Blake Wheeler progressing from lower-body injury for Rangers

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Wheeler took regular turns on a fifth line at the morning skate, with Matt Rempe and Adam Edstrom. He returned to practice in a no-contact jersey just last week.

The former Winnipeg Jets captain has been a major cheerleader for the Blueshirts during the playoffs. Video of him pounding the glass after the 3-2 overtime win in Raleigh on Thursday went viral and shows how badly Wheeler wants to be a part of this special postseason run by the Rangers.

“You saw his enthusiasm there the other night on the OT goal, he just wants to get back on the inside and be a part of that,” Laviolette said.

Of course, barring injury, the Rangers lineup is pretty set. Filip Chytil returned from a six-month injury absence to play in Game 3 against the Hurricanes. But Chytil missed the next game with an illness and likely will be out again in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

Jonny Brodzinski played for the first time in these playoffs in Game 4 and Matt Rempe played the six playoff games this spring.

So, first, Wheeler needs to be healthy enough to play. Second, Laviolette must decide if there’s a fit for him or not.

But for right now, Wheeler is making steady progress and it’s been an inspiration to the Rangers, who can wrap up their series against the Hurricanes with a win Monday and advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three seasons.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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