MONTREAL - This won’t be Derek Stepan’s decision.
After breaking his jaw last Thursday following a late high hit from Brandon Prust, the New York Rangers centre was back in his familiar position between Chris Kreider and Rick Nash Tuesday.
Wearing a face shield -- similar to the one Sidney Crosby wore when he had a broken jaw -- Stepan took part in the full morning skate but his status is most certainly up in the air.
He looked like a guy who will play Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Canadiens with the Rangers holding a 3-1 series lead but that decision won’t be made until later.
“There’s a lot of things that have to happen for him to play tonight,” said Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault. “We are going to talk to him this afternoon and see how he reacted to the practice.
“Nutrition is obviously an issue at this time. Later on today we’ll talk to the doctors, we’ll talk to him and see how it works out.”
Stepan is on a soft diet. He will likely want to play but Vigneault made it clear that it will not be Stepan’s decision to return for what could be a chance to book a trip to the Stanley Cup final.
“The only way he is going to play is if he gets full medical clearance,” said Vigneault. “This is not going to be up to him. It’s going to our medical staff to make sure that they feel he can play.”
Vigneault said Stepan will meet with the club’s three doctors.
“They are going to talk between the player, the doctors and they are going to make the call,” said Vigneault.
A win away from getting to the Cup final for the first time in 21 years has Vigneault salavating.
“The NHL 2013-14 season started Oct. 1 with a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. An Original Six matchup,” said Vigneault.
“Today is May 27. We’re the first team this year that has an opportunity, with one win, to move onto the Stanley Cup final. We’re going to be ready.”