The cheers and chants of “Shanny, Shanny” filled the arena when the popular 38-year-old forward took his first shift Wednesday night after a long layoff caused by a severe concussion. “There are nerves and apprehension,” Shanahan said following the New York Rangers’ 5-0 victory over Philadelphia in which he had two assists. “What you’re conditioned to do and what you’re trained to do in those situations is to go full steam ahead.
“No matter what you do in practice, how many battles you get into, or how far you skate or how long you skate, or how quick you skate, you have to get in games to kind of get that feeling over with. It was nice to get the first couple of shifts out of the way and go from there.”
Shanahan, still the team leader with 28 goals, hadn’t played since Feb. 17 when he collided violently with Philadelphia forward Mike Knuble in the Rangers’ 5-3 loss to the Flyers and was removed on a stretcher after being knocked unconscious.
The Rangers went 8-3-4 without him, but he got back in time to help the playoff push. New York is seventh in the Eastern Conference with eight games left in the regular season.
It just so happened that Shanahan’s return coincided with Philadelphia’s final appearance of the season at Madison Square Garden, the scene of the accidental crash between the two big forwards. The players never saw each other as they skated in opposite directions near the benches while following the puck.
In Wednesday’s pre-game warmups, Shanahan smiled across the red line toward Knuble and winked, telling him he was OK. The left wing took his first shift 2:08 into the game to an enthusiastic ovation.
It was similar support from the crowd that Shanahan said woke him up after he was knocked out last month. He needed a few weeks to get over the effects of the hit, most notably a lengthy bout with vertigo. He resumed skating recently, and teammate Sean Avery – a notorious agitator – even rattled him with checks in practice to make sure he was ready.
“Leading up to the game it was like being a rookie all over again,” Shanahan said. “But once the puck drops and you get a couple of shifts and you get a couple of bumps you feel back to normal.”
Shanahan took 18 shifts in the rematch with Philadelphia and logged 14:26 of ice time. He set up goals by Avery in the second and third periods.
“Our line has never played together and we all seemed to find each other,” Shanahan said. “We had a lot of scoring chances.
“When there were holes, I was jumping in them. The anticipation was there, the vision was good. A couple of shots didn’t quite go exactly where I wanted … but that is to be expected.”
One came in the third period when Shanahan rang a shot off the goal post.
Knuble, who broke both a cheekbone and orbital bone when he slammed into Shanahan, played his fourth game since facial surgery and wore a full face cage.
The Rangers were without forward Martin Straka (knee) for the second straight game, but he is expected to be back Saturday at Boston. Philadelphia was missing forwards Scottie Upshall (shoulder) and Simon Gagne (hip), who could return to the lineup this weekend.
The Flyers then lost hard-hitting forward Todd Fedoruk just 21 seconds in when he was knocked out by Colton Orr’s punch to the face. Orr landed a right hand to Fedoruk’s left cheek, sending him to the ice on his back.
Fedoruk was removed by stretcher and taken by ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he was kept overnight.
“I felt really bad for him … because I know what he’s going through,” Shanahan said. “I saw immediately by the way his two arms hit the ice. When your arms go up by your side like that it means you’re knocked out.
“Obviously concern to him, but at the same time having some flashbacks myself.”