Blackhawks-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics before helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup that summer.

After capturing gold again with Canada in Sochi, they'd gladly welcome a repeat of that scenario.

Chicago begins its stretch run Thursday night as it visits a New York Rangers team that will be without leading scorer Mats Zuccarello due to an injury suffered at the Olympics.

The Blackhawks (35-11-14) were represented well in Sochi, sending a league high-tying 10 players who competed for five nations. Toews, Keith and Patrick Sharp brought home gold after winning the tournament finale over Sweden, which featured teammates Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger.

Though the parallel exists with the Vancouver Games when Toews, Keith and Brent Seabrook won gold before helping the Blackhawks win a championship, this season brings a different set of challenges. Patrick Kane also played the maximum six games with the United States, but Marian Hossa, Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus were home earlier after being eliminated.

"I don't think anybody is going to have a problem to come back (ready to play)," Hossa said. "Obviously those guys who had to play right to the end may have a tougher time because of the jet lag, but we should be fine."

The Blackhawks went 3-1-1 heading into the break but were blanked 2-0 by Phoenix on Feb. 7 while Kane attended his grandfather's funeral. Coach Joel Quenneville thinks the break benefited those who didn't go to Sochi with some extra rest.

"I think we went into the break exactly how we were hoping to play," Quenneville said. "We'll see how we exit, but from watching practice the last couple of days I like the progress we're showing. We should be energized about having a good finish (to the regular season) and I'm excited about getting everybody together again."

Rangers forward Carl Hagelin and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist took silver with Sweden after losing in the final to teammate Rick Nash. The Olympics weren't as kind to Zuccarello, who suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left hand when he blocked a shot while playing for Norway.

Zuccarello, who has team highs of 28 assists and 43 points, is expected to miss the next two to three weeks.

New York (32-24-3) also has been dealing with trade rumors surrounding defenseman Dan Girardi and captain Ryan Callahan as the March 5th deadline approaches. Coach Alain Vigneault doesn't anticipate there being any issues as long as they're still with the team.

"I'm doing what I've been doing since the first day, and that's focusing on which 20 skaters give us the best chance to beat the opposition," Vigneault said. "I've talked with both Dan and Ryan because I know this is somewhat of a distraction for our team. They've focused on what they need to do and their job on the ice with their teammates, and I don't expect that to change at all."

The Rangers hope to pick up where they left off before the break, as Girardi had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 shootout win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 7 for their fifth victory in six games. Lundqvist made 26 saves in that contest, but Vigneault announced that Cam Talbot will get the start against Chicago.

The rookie is 10-5-0 with a 1.79 goals-against average in 15 starts. He'll oppose Corey Crawford, who had a 1.59 GAA while starting the Blackhawks' last five games before the break.

Crawford made 29 saves in the first meeting with New York on Jan. 8, but Hagelin's third-period goal gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory in Chicago.

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