NHL playoff updates: Rangers’ Klein, Wild’s Cooke questionable for Game 1 – & Vermette a healthy scratch?

On the eve of the start of the NHL playoffs, a number of teams revealed news about players not likely to play in Game 1 of their opening-round series. Most were blamed on injuries, but Hawks center and trade deadline acquisition Antoine Vermette may be sitting on the sidelines as a healthy scratch.

The start of the NHL playoffs means it’s time for subterfuge and/or the vaguest of terms to describe players’ injuries – and the playing status of any roster member, for that matter – so take anything you see below with a salt grain or two. But a number of NHLers were rumored Tuesday to be questionable for the start of their team’s first-round series – and not just because of injury.

According to the New York Daily News, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t expect veteran defenseman Kevin Klein to practice with the team Wednesday or play in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blueshirts have one of the NHL’s deeper defense corps and are still a huge threat to win even with Klein sidelined, but when healthy, the 30-year-old former Predators blueliner (who suffered a left arm injury in early March while blocking an Alex Ovechkin wrist shot) gives them arguably the league’s best group of defensemen. The Penguins got a bit of good news on the injury front – key defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was cleared for contact and is listed as day-to-day, Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston announced Tuesday – but Ehrhoff also won’t be ready for Game 1 in Manhattan.

In the Western Conference, the Wild revealed left winger Matt Cooke has an injury that may prevent him from playing the opening game of Minnesota’s first-round series against St. Louis. The 36-year-old didn’t practice Tuesday because of what Wild head coach Mike Yeo termed “discomfort”, but didn’t rule him out completely from Game 1. Yeo also said the injury was unrelated to the sports hernia that forced Cooke out of the lineup for two months.

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Finally, although there was welcome news in Chicago Tuesday that star Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane would play in Game 1 of their first-round showdown against Nashville, Kane’s return is likely to result in some bad news for Antoine Vermette. The 32-year-old Hawks center – who was Arizona’s second-leading scorer when Chicago acquired him at the trade deadline – is likely to be a healthy scratch for Game 1. Vermette hasn’t done much at all since becoming a Hawk – he didn’t score at all and amassed just three assists in 19 games following the trade – and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t have any more time to help him better acclimate to the team. He may need an injury to get back in the Blackhawks’ deep group of forwards.