Henrik Lundqvist is much closer to returning to action after being sidelined 20 games.

Lundqvist, who suffered a dangerous vascular injury to his throat when he was struck by a deflected shot against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31, was medically cleared Tuesday to practice, the Rangers announced.

The 33-year-old goaltender, who has been skating and undergoing conditioning drills almost daily with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, still has blocked nothing but low shots.

That will change, presumably on Friday.

The Rangers have no morning skate before hosting the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday and are scheduled to be off Thursday. They will practice Friday at the training center in Greenburgh before flying to Carolina for Saturday's game.

Lundqvist was seen in Greenburgh Tuesday morning, but did not speak to reporters. In the late afternoon, he tweeted: "1 step closer . . . It's been 6 long weeks, look forward to start practicing with the boys."

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Coach Alain Vigneault said recently that Lundqvist was progressing well, but would need several full practices before playing. It is now possible that he could play late next week, when the Blueshirts have road games against the Senators on March 26, and the Bruins March 28, and a home matinee against the Capitals on March 29. After the Washington game, seven regular-season games remain.

Both Lundqvist and the team said he would not rush to start unless he was completely ready to play.

Lundqvist, who has been ably replaced by Cam Talbot (13-2-3), last played in a 6-3 win over the Panthers on Feb. 2. For the season, he is 25-11-3, with a 2.25 GAA and a .922 save percentage and five shutouts.

Lundqvist has not been activated from long-term injured reserve; when he is, rookie Mackenzie Skapski, who Vigneault referred to Tuesday as the "Buffalo-killer" for his two wins over the Sabres, will be returned to Hartford.

Injury leads to reshuffle

The loss of injured Martin St. Louis for up to two weeks has triggered a reshuffling of the top three lines and the power play units before hosting Chicago Wednesday.

Despite the Rangers' rise to the top of the East -- built on defense and goaltending -- the power play is stale (1-for-21) and the Blueshirts have scored just 12 goals in the last six games.

In St. Louis' spot, Vigneault reunited Rick Nash with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, a trio for much of last season. Kevin Hayes was moved from third-line center to fill in for Nash with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. James Sheppard was moved onto the third line, centering Carl Hagelin and J.T. Miller.

On the first power-play unit, Vigneault deployed four forwards, Stepan, Nash, Brassard and Kreider, and just one defenseman, Keith Yandle, rather than three forwards and two defensemen.