NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have already clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Buffalo Sabres have already secured the NHL's worst record. But each team will still have plenty to play for when the Rangers host the Sabres on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
New York is 8-2-1 in its past 11 games and appears to be finding its stride in time for the postseason. They can also take one step closer to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win against Buffalo. The opportunity to secure home ice is something the Rangers are not taking lightly.
"I think it's important. In the playoffs everything is so tight, it's a different animal from the regular season," forward Brad Richards said. "When you can have last change if it goes to the all-important seventh game, it's a big advantage. We're going to try our best for it."
Richards knows a thing or two about Game 7s. While with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, he won back-to-back Game 7s in the Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Stanley Cup Final against the Calgary Flames.
"The two that year, Philly and Calgary, went to Game 7 on home ice," Richards said. "We pretty much felt in control both games on home ice. That helped a lot."
Forward Chris Kreider participated in New York's optional skate on Thursday, but is still dealing with an injured left hand and doesn't appear close to returning. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is out with an injured shoulder, but is scheduled to skate on Friday and could play in the Rangers' regular-season finale against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Buffalo coach Ted Nolan described defenseman Henrik Tallinder as a game-time decision, but Tallinder said he was ready to go and should play. If he is added to the Sabres lineup, he'll be looked to for guidance and experience, particularly with rookie defensemen Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen still earning their stripes.
"He adds that mature experience, especially for some of the younger guys," Nolan said after the Sabres practiced at MSG. "Hank is coming toward the latter part of his career. Some of the knowledge he gained over those years is very valuable."
With veterans like Tallinder lending their guidance, the hope is Buffalo's young talent can use the experience they've gained in a difficult season to further develop as players.
"This year has been so beneficial for my career. I've learned a lot in the last year about being a professional," rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons said. "This year has just been a learning experience about everything. Losing is just one part of it."
Goaltender Matt Hackett will start for the Sabres against Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.
Here are the projected lineups:
Drew Stafford - Tyler Ennis - Chris Stewart
Marcus Foligno - Cody Hodgson - Zemgus Girgensons
Matt Ellis - Brian Flynn - Matt D'Agostini
John Scott - Torrey Mitchell - Cory Conacher
Christian Ehrhoff - Rasmus Ristolainen
Mike Weber - Henrik Tallinder
Jamie McBain - Jake McCabe
Scratched: Zenon Konopka
Injured: Jhonas Enroth (lower body), Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Chad Ruhwedel (concussion), Tyler Myers (upper body), Nathan Lieuwen (concussion), Alexander Sulzer (upper body)
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Jesper Fast
Mats Zuccarello - Derick Brassard - Benoit Pouliot
Dominic Moore - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett
John Moore - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Raphael Diaz - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, Justin Falk, Ryan Haggerty
Injured: Ryan McDonagh (shoulder), Chris Kreider (hand)