GREENBURGH, N.Y. - When the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks visit on Thursday, the Rangers certainly will be without their top scorer, Mats Zuccarello, who is recovering from a broken hand.
But they also might open the final 23-game stretch of the season without Henrik Lundqvist, who played every minute of six games in Sochi for Team Sweden -- which won the silver medal -- and defenseman Marc Staal, who has not practiced for three days because of back spasms. Staal has not been ruled out of Thursday's game, but he certainly will have to practice again to get the green light.
The team's No. 1 goaltender isn't injured but will discuss his readiness with coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday "to get a feel for where he is," Vigneault said. "I don't think the number of minutes he played make a difference. I want to find out about the travel and how he feels, mentally and emotionally, right now. The different time zones can affect some players."
If that is the case, Cam Talbot (10-5-0, 1.79 GAA, .935 save percentage) will step in Thursday and presumably play one of the weekend back-to-backs: Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia or at home against Boston on Sunday.
"He's given us a chance to win every time," Vigneault said of Talbot. "We're obviously going to need him a couple games here in the final push."
Given the tightness of the Eastern Conference, "we've got to approach every game like a must-win," Talbot said, noting that "everyone knows that Hank likes to play; if they give him the chance, I'm sure he'll be right back in there. He's a competitor. I haven't been given any direction yet."
In 2006, after Sweden won the gold medal in Turin, Italy, Lundqvist struggled when he returned to New York. "People have brought that up," Vigneault said, "but it was his rookie season. He's gone through it now on another couple occasions; he's a more mature player."
Notes & quotes: Derek Dorsett, who has missed 17 games with a broken leg, skated in a contact jersey and should be available to play Thursday . . . Derek Stepan, who played less than four minutes total for Team USA, likely will be at practice Tuesday . . . Talbot said the team hasn't been distracted by trade rumors involving captain Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. "They're two of the leaders in the room,'' he said. "Until anything happens, it's going to stay that way."