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Blake Wheeler could be ready to help Rangers in Eastern Conference Final vs. Panthers

Antwan Staley, New York Daily News on

Published in Hockey

The Rangers will begin their Eastern Conference Final series against the Panthers on Wednesday.

With the much-needed break before Game 1, the Blueshirts could potentially see the return of a key player.

Blake Wheeler told reporters after Sunday’s practice that he is “an option and available” for the series against the Panthers. However, Rangers coach Peter Laviolette was non-committal about Wheeler’s availability.

“It is amazing to see the work that he put in,” Laviolette said about Wheeler. “It is incredible the way he attacked this. He is now back and is on the ice and doesn’t have a different color jersey on and he is working every day to make himself part of the conversation.

“That’s not always the way that it is, but this is a guy that has been around this game for a long time and he has done some amazing things. He also realizes there’s an opportunity, and he is going to do everything he can to make himself a possibility.”

Wheeler suffered an injury on Feb. 15 after his right leg buckled during a 7-4 victory against the Canadiens. He was later placed on injured reserve and ruled out for the rest of the regular season.

 

During the first two Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Capitals and Hurricanes, Wheeler was a mere spectator. But he has been practicing in a Red noncontact jersey recently.

During the last week, he exchanged that noncontact jersey for a traditional practice uniform. Wheeler participated in the Rangers’ optional skate on Sunday.

After spending the previous 12 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Wheeler signed with the Rangers last offseason. In 54 games this season, Wheeler registered 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists).

“It is difficult because of how bad you want to be out there,” Wheeler said about not being able to play. “But at the same time, you know that’s not really an option.

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