Game 4 of the Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference Finals series won’t include Rangers RW Brandon Prust. He was suspended one game by the NHL VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan for elbow contact to the head of Devils D Anton Volchenkov in Game 3 on Saturday. Did Volchenkov sell the hit a little bit? Probably. But the way the NHL has handed out penalties in the playoffs, an injury to the victimized player plays a part in the disciplinary process, so can you really blame him? Volcehnkov didn’t miss a shift and skated in practice yesterday, so there were no lingering effects from the hit. Prust has never been suspended or had any sort of altercation with the league before, and those were main factors in the suspension being only one game. The bottom line is it was elbow contact to the back of the head and it was by the boards. If you weren’t expecting a suspension, you were being naive.
As for who replaces Prust in the line up, there are 4 potential options Rangers coach John Tortorella could go with:
Brandon Dubinsky – Dubinsky injured his right ankle in Game 7 against Ottawa in the 1st round and hasn’t played since. He skated for the 2nd time in 3 days in yesterday’s practice and wasn’t wearing a non-contact jersey for the first time. I think this is the best option for the Rangers if he’s ready to go. The 6’1 210lb LW brings a little bit of everything to the table and gives the Rangers more of an edge in their line-up. I don’t think the Rangers want to rush him back too soon, and this is the least likely option. If the Rangers were down in the series or facing elimination, that would be different.
Mats Zuccarello – The 24 year old Norwegian broke his left wrist back blocking a Jordan Leopold shot against the Sabres back in March. He skated for the first time with the Rangers on May 9th, and was approximately 10 days away from coming back at that point. It’s been 12 days since then, so he could be ready to go. The diminutive winger (5’7″ 180lbs) brings speed to the line-up and could be a force on the power play. The Rangers are 3 for 10 in the series and 12 for 67 in the playoffs (17.9%) with the man-advantage, so a boost to the power play would be welcomed.
Stu Bickel or Steve Eminger – This is the last resort option for Torts and he would only dress a 7th defenseman if Dubinsky or Zuccarello would be too much of a risk to play. Eminger is averaging 5:23 on the ice over two games and Bickel is averaging 4:54 over 16 games in the 2012 playoffs. Tortorella doesn’t trust either of these guys right now. Since he has a penchant for shortening his bench, I wouldn’t expect to see an increase in minutes at the forward position for either of these guys. This is probably the most likely option.