Sign up here to get Inside the Rangers delivered to your inbox each Tuesday morning.
This is not how you would have wanted Alexis Lafreniere to get his first crack at a recurring top-six role since the second week of the season, because you never want a scenario under which Artemi Panarin is out of the lineup.
But that is the situation the Rangers are facing after No. 10 was added to the COVID-restricted list prior to Sunday’s Garden confrontation with the Lightning. There are a number of unknowns in the equation, but if Panarin is asymptomatic and meets all other protocol requirements, he could be cleared in time for Saturday’s match in Anaheim.
That means a minimum three-game absence, including Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Tampa Bay, Monday’s emphatic 4-1 disposal of the Oilers and Thursday’s upcoming match in Vegas that represents the first of a five-game trip that includes stops in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Philadelphia.