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Blackhawks make lone appearance at Madison Square Garden to face Rangers

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Both teams are far away from the playoff picture.

Chicago Blackhawks v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Two teams without much left in the way of playoff hopes take to the ice on Thursday night, when the Chicago Blackhawks travel east to the Big Apple to face the New York Rangers.

But no playoff hopes were part of the plan for the Rangers, who’ve been publicly stating that they’re in a rebuild, with Madison Square Garden Company CEO James Dolan reiterating that point in comments to the New York Post last week. On the ice, the Rangers have complied with that part of the plan, ranking 24th in the league with goals scored (124) and 26th in goals against (159), amassing just 45 points in 46 games thus far. Mika Zibanejad is the top active scoring threat with 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists), fresh off a two-goal, two-assist performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in New York’s most recent outing. Chris Kreider also has 21 goals this season. Kevin Hayes, a former first-round pick of the Blackhawks who never signed in Chicago, is third on the team with 33 points. But he’s been out since early January with an upper-body injury and will not play in this one.

On the ice isn’t where the intrigue lies with this Rangers team, however: it’s in the front office. Specifically, it’s how the Rangers will handle the approaching trade deadline. The aforementioned Hayes, who’s 26, is on an expiring contract and could be trade bait, along with veteran Mats Zuccarello. Kreider’s name could be called as well. On the blue line, 24-year-old Brady Skjei may be the only one young enough to hang around. Kevin Shattenkirk, 29, and Marc Staal, 32, are likely trade pieces to be bargained.

And then there’s always the prospect of — gasp — trading away franchise cornerstone Henrik Lundqvist, the goaltender who’s spent his entire 14-year career with the Rangers. But with this being the worst statistical season of his career (.908 save percentage, 3.04 goals-against average) and with two more seasons remaining on a contract that carries an $8.5 million cap hit, suitors may not be as aggressive in his pursuit.

The Rangers also have Ryan Strome. His younger brother, Dylan, is a Blackhawk. Dylan’s teams have lost to Ryan’s teams in their three prior NHL meetings.

Elsewhere with the Blackhawks, Collin Delia returns to the starting spot in net after Cam Ward was lit up by the New Jersey Devils on Monday night. While lineups were hard to decipher from the morning skate, newly-acquired Slater Koekkoek appears to be headed to the press box as a healthy scratch. The forward lines may be getting loaded up at the top, with Jonathan Toews flanked by Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat. On the second line, Chicago’s Strome will have Patrick Kane to his right and the recently-acquired Drake Caggiula to his left.

Projected Lineups

Blackhawks

SaadToews — DeBrincat

Caggiula — Strome — Kane

Kahun — Anisimov — Perlini

Kampf — Kruger — Hayden

Keith — Gustafsson

Jokiharju — Seabrook

Dahlstrom — Murphy

Delia

Ward

Rangers

KreiderZibanejad — Zuccarello

Chytil — Strome — Fast

Vesey — Nieves — Namestnikov

McLeod — Howden — Buchnevich

Skjei — McQuiad

Staal — DeAngelo

Smith — Shattenkirk

Lundqvist

Georgiev

How to Watch

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Chicago