When the New York Rangers stepped out of the New York Mets dugout at Citi Field on Monday for warmups, a familiar face was on the ice.
When the New York Rangers took to the ice yesterday in the frigid Winter Classic at Citi Field, many were surprised to see number 17 skating in warmups. Jesper Fast was alternating with Vinni Lettieri as the fourth line was getting ready for the game.
Fast was injured against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 20, suffering a quad injury the Rangers said would keep him out of the lineup for two-to-three weeks. Fast had another timeline in mind.
“This was my goal all along,” Fast told Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News after the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime win over the Sabres. “I think I had 10 days to get back, and during the break, I did everything I could to make sure I was as healthy as possible.”
Fast wound up missing three games with the injury. On Sunday, when the Rangers had their Citi Field practice, Fast skated as an extra defenseman after skating on his own earlier in the week. The decision to play in the Winter Classic wasn’t made until the team took warmups on Monday afternoon. Fast felt good after warmups concluded and told Alain Vigneault. Lettieri, called up when it was announced that Chris Kreider would be out of the lineup indefinitely due to a blood clot, was a healthy scratch for the game.
Vigneault said this about the decision to play Fast: “(Sunday) if somebody would have asked me I would have said he wasn’t going to play, But (he) felt real good playing defense there in practice, felt real good after practice. Got up (Monday) morning and he talked to the docs and he told me just after warmup he was good to go. So I put him in.”
Fast’s penalty killing skill was needed in this game as the Rangers took five penalties. He was on the penalty kill for 2:59 of the team’s total short-handed time.
Yet Fast was just not happy to be on the ice. As had been the case prior to his injury, Fast was involved in the Rangers first goal scored in the Classic. When forward Paul Carey scored, Fast had the primary assist to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. The surprised starter did what he always does, that is to give the Rangers a fourth-line spark, something he’s been very good at all season.
Fast played a total of 12 minutes, 29 seconds in his first game back. He and his fourth line teammates, Boo Nieves and Paul Carey, all contributed in Monday’s win.
The Rangers are going to need to have a healthy Jesper Fast as the team heads into the toughest part of their schedule. If the Rangers play as determined as Fast was to return to the team, the Blueshirts should be just fine.