Very jokingly, Chris Kreider had sympathy for Mika Zibanejad’s knee.
Kreider came back in a big way for the Rangers, notching a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs in his return from a one-game absence due to an inadvertent knee to the head from Zibanejad on Saturday in Detroit. Kreider was dynamic from start to finish, and no worse for the wear while dealing what he described as neck injury.
“I feel good,” Kreider said. “Just worried about Mika’s knee, really.”
The injury occurred early in the second period against the Red Wings, and Kreider left that game and didn’t play in Monday night’s 5-3 Garden loss to the Stars. There was immediate concern that he might have had a concussion — which coach David Quinn squashed right away — and it turned out to be not nearly as bad as it looked.
“I felt OK, didn’t feel great when it happened,” Kreider said. “I twisted my neck pretty good. … You never want to miss games, but you have to listen to your body.”
The 28-year-old, the best player possibly available on the trade market, was ready to go in this one. He displayed his speed and strength when he flew around defenseman Justin Holl and then buried a backhand at 17:24 of the first period — just six seconds after he had won a draw back to Zibanejad, who fired a wrist shot past goalie Michael Hutchinson.
The line, rounded out by Pavel Buchnevich, combined for seven points.
“I think we just kept it simple,” Kreider said.
Quinn had benched Pavel Buchnevich for most of the third period on Monday, but started him right back on the top line and he delivered his fourth goal in the past five games, adding two assists. So it goes with the mercurial 24-year-old Russian.
“It’s like going to an amusement park,” Quinn said. “Sometime you have the high rides, and you’re having a hell of a time, then you’re waiting on line and waiting to get on the ride and you get frustrated and aggravated. He’s a good player, he’s a real good player, and he’s had a good year for us.
“Sometimes guys just need a little jolt.”
Winger Phillip Di Giuseppe stayed in the lineup for the second straight game after making his Rangers debut on Monday. He played mostly on the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Brett Howden.
Rookie winger Kaapo Kakko got just four third-period shifts and played 11:24. … Brendan Smith joined Micheal Haley and Alexandar Georgiev as the healthy scratches.
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