NEW YORK – With the season on the line, Rangers captain Chris Drury returned to the lineup for the first time in two months Saturday and scored his first goal on his first shift.
Drury, out since Feb. 3 because of a knee injury, rejoined the team for the regular-season finale against the New Jersey Devils. Rangers coach John Tortorella made the surprising announcement shortly before the puck dropped for the matinee game.
Drury made an impact right away, scoring his first goal of the season 3:14 into the game to lift the Rangers into a 1-1 tie.
"Dru's not a holler guy in the room. He leads by example," Tortorella said. "When you look at him, how hard he's worked at coming back with a chronic knee here, I think that just adds something to your locker room. He's just so well-respected by his teammates. He's been known to make big plays at big times in big games.
"We'll see where it goes as we start playing the game."
New York needed to at least get to overtime against New Jersey to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Rangers could only reach the postseason if the Carolina Hurricanes lost on Saturday night.
It is been a lost season for the 34-year-old center. He was limited to 23 games because of a twice-broken finger and a knee injury that required surgery in February. Drury returned after missing 27 consecutive games, but he had been on the ice for seven straight days before suiting up.
"Dru is Dru. He's been wanting to go for a little bit here," Tortorella said. "I'm not sure exactly how much he'll play. We'll see. He'll take some faceoffs, he'll kill some penalties. He gives us a little bit of juice as far as him coming back. Our captain's back in the lineup. We'll see how it goes as we proceed in the game."
Drury, who had only four assists this season before his return, replaced Sean Avery in the lineup against New Jersey and will attempt to fill the leadership void created by Ryan Callahan's season-ending leg injury this week.
Mats Zuccarello also got back in after a minor league stint, and Matt Gilroy, who moved up to a forward position in Callahan's place during Thursday night's loss to Atlanta, returned to defense in place of Steve Eminger.