Alexis Lafreniere’s top-six chance is here — but it’s destined to be short-term without this big change

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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.

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