Rangers centers Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil will be game-time decisions for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, head coach Gerard Gallant said before the club traveled home Wednesday morning.
Despite participating in an optional morning skate and then taking pregame warmups ahead of the Rangers’ eventual 4-1 loss in Game 4 Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, Strome was a late scratch presumably due to the lower-body injury that he suffered in Game 3 .
Strome took a cross check to the back from the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat early in the second period of Sunday’s Game 3 and immediately headed to the Rangers locker room. He came back for a single shift, but decided he couldn’t continue and missed the remainder of the game.
“Yeah it was real close,” Gallant said of Strome taking warmups before Game 4. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing. You got to make the right ones and they’re tough calls for everybody. But I felt we made the right one [Tuesday] night.”
Chytil sustained an upper-body injury in the second period of Game 4 on Tuesday night after the Czech center took a hard hit into the boards from Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. The loss of two key centers would be difficult to overcome for the Rangers, but they have a true center waiting in the wings and a couple of versatile forwards in the lineup already.
With Strome unavailable, Kevin Rooney drew back into the Rangers lineup for the first time since Game 5 of the second round against the Hurricanes. He slotted into his usual fourth-line center spot between Tyler Motte and Ryan Reaves. Barclay Goodrow was bumped up to the second line with Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp.
“He played great [in Game 4 Tuesday night] I thought,” Copp said of Rooney. “He’s a guy that’s been really valuable all year. He made a really good play on the PK [Tuesday] night that led to a grade-A chance. We like our depth guys. Even the guys that are out of the lineup right now could come in and make an impact for sure.”
Both Copp and Goodrow can play at either wing or center, so Gallant would have flexibility if he had to rearrange the Rangers lineup to accommodate losing Strome and Chytil.
Mika Zibanejad’s 24 points and Adam Fox’s 23 points are leading the Rangers this postseason, with Zibanejad ranking third in the NHL and Fox leading defensemen and fourth overall.
Both Rangers trail only Brian Letch’s 34 points and Mark Messier’s 30 from the team’s 1994 Stanley Cup run for the most points in a single playoff year in franchise history.