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Filip Chytil fights his way back into Rangers’ lineup after a devastating setback

RALEIGH, N.C. — On Filip Chytil’s first shift of Game 3, Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook drove him into the boards. The hit was clean, nothing out of the ordinary for playoff hockey. But it was something Chytil hadn’t experienced in half a year.

It felt so good,” he said after the Rangers 3-2 overtime win against the Hurricanes. “I’ve never felt better when somebody hit me.”

The 24-year-old Chytil, who has a history of head injuries, sustained a concussion when he collided with Jesper Fast on Nov. 2 against the Hurricanes. He went through a trying six months in an attempt to return to game action. He went back to his native Czechia over the holidays, then started ramping up for a return in January, only to suffer an on-ice setback at an optional Rangers skate. The team ruled him out for the season.

But Chytil started to feel better when back in Czechia after his setback. At one point — he couldn’t pinpoint exactly when — he started to believe a comeback was possible.



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“I felt like this team is unbelievable without me for a whole season, what they did,” he said. “But with me we can be even better. I love this team. I love these players. I love everybody in this organization. In one moment I just realized I wanted to be back, and I did everything for that, and we’re here today.”  

Chytil, the No. 21 pick in the 2017 draft, had six assists in 10 games in the regular season, and he posted a 22-goal, 45-point campaign in 2022-23. He’s a strong middle-six player who raises the ceiling of a Rangers club that has a 3-0 series lead. Getting him back is a big deal, especially in the playoffs, when depth is essential.

Chytil skated at left wing on the third line with center Alex Wennberg and right with Kaapo Kakko in Game 3, and he had a shot on goal in 12:02 of ice time. The Rangers had 56.79 percent of the expected goal share with his line on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick.

“He got better and better as the game went on,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You wouldn’t have known he was off for however long it was. … I thought he came in and gave us some real good quality minutes.”

Added teammate Chris Kreider: “Obviously a long, frustrating road for him. It’s been amazing to have him around. To have him come in and buzz around out there, have a positive impact, it was awesome.”

Along with his shot, which came six minutes into the third, Chytil created a solid scoring chance, driving to the net at the end of the Rangers power play midway through the final period. He also was more than comfortable with the physicality of the game.

“I even got a stick to the face once, and I was, ‘Yeah, get me more,’” he said. “I was so happy. It gave me the adrenaline, what I missed in the last six months. Even this, when it’s painful, it was feeling good.”

Chytil began practicing with the team after the regular season ended. He implied it was the team’s decision to let him join in on skates and credited his family and girlfriend with supporting him through the recovery process. He was fully cleared for contact and had no limitations in the team’s practices.

“I thought the staff, the medical staff, training staff and even the coaches, skills coach and assistant coaches, did an unbelievable month over the last month of ramping him up for a possible re-entry,” Laviolette said. “He’s been attacking every day to get to that point where we came to an agreement that that time was now, it was approaching.” 

Added Chytil: “I have amazing people around me at home, I have amazing people here, so when you connect it together, the result is that I’m playing in the second game in Game 3 against Carolina. There’s nothing better.” 

Laviolette played bruising forward Matt Rempe in each of the team’s first six games of the playoffs, all of which the Rangers won. The coach has frequently praised the 6-foot-8 winger’s physical play and infectious personality, but he trusted him to play only 4:03 in Tuesday’s double overtime Game 2 win. Rempe didn’t get a shift in the third period or either extra period.



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Laviolette doesn’t get the last change as the visitor in Raleigh. Had Rempe been in the lineup, the coach would have had a tougher time sheltering his minutes. Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour could have tried to exploit matchups had Rempe played. Laviolette also mentioned that Game 2, as well as the travel to Raleigh, took a physical toll on the team.

“We needed to really try to maximize the bench as much as we could (in Game 3),” Laviolette said. “This was a perfect opportunity to re-enter (Chytil) into the lineup.”

Chytil said he had a good talk with Laviolette, who told him of the decision. The Rangers gave no hint of the decision at morning skate, though. Rempe went through drills with the fourth line.

“I was just nervous in the first moment because six months and a couple weeks, it’s a long time,” he said. “But right away, the feeling was nervous but excited to go in the game. I came here with a smile on my face before the game, and everything just clicked.” 

With Chytil in, Rempe watched from the press box. A collection of Rangers fans spotted him before the game and began chanting his name. Carolina fans resulted in the opposite fashion. “Rempe can’t spell ‘hurricane!’” one yelled, which drew a laugh from the 21-year-old.

Five floors below him, Chytil didn’t look out of place on the ice. Speaking postgame, he praised the Rangers’ togetherness on the ice, how they block shots, lay hits and go to dirty areas of play.

“They did a great job all season,” he said. “We won the President’s Trophy. I was just watching on TV from home and I was happy for everyone in this club.”

But, he added, “I was feeling like something was missing.”

And that missing piece was back for Game 3. 

“I was enjoying even the crowd against us; I was enjoying everything,” Chytil said. “It was a great day and an unbelievable win for us.”

(Top photo of Filip Chytil: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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