NEW YORK -- With rumors swirling around them about players that could be leaving and one that wants to join them, the New York Rangers are trying to keep the focus on getting their post-Olympic schedule started off the right way so they can quickly get back the feeling they had before the hockey world turned its attention to Sochi.
The Rangers play their first game since the Olympic break against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). It's the first of a stretch that features three games in four days, including a trip to play the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon and a home game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday night.
New York won five of its past six games before the Olympic break and is second in the Metropolitan Division with 67 points.
"From our standpoint, games are so important and the points are so important," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We talked to our players [Wednesday] before practice and we had a good meeting here [Thursday] morning, and I think everybody understands that we can't take a couple of days here to get back into it here. We've gotta play well and we've gotta play well right now."
Playing well right now means the Rangers have no choice but to try to ignore the rumors, which could continue straight through the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on March 5.
Captain Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi are involved in those trade rumors, and nobody is quite sure if they're going to be Rangers beyond the deadline. Neither addressed the media Thursday. Both are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on July 1.
"Those guys have done a real good job of keeping those moments that they have with their environment away from the rink," Vigneault said. "When they come here they come to play, they come to practice hard, and they've done a real good job. They're New York Rangers and I'm hoping that they're going to stay New York Rangers."
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis hitched himself to the Rangers' rumor mill Wednesday, when TSN reported he is seeking a trade to New York. St. Louis is signed through next season and has a $5.625 million average annual salary.
"We've got a great group that does well in putting that stuff aside," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We've got a good leadership group that has been here for a while and has seen many scenarios happen. We've had many big trades go down and moves made. Whatever happens happens, but our group is focusing on just trying to get back to playing the way we were before the break. We've got a good group that is mentally focusing on that."
Cam Talbot will get the start against the Blackhawks as Henrik Lundqvist is given an extra few days off after his silver-medal performance for Sweden in the Olympics. Talbot's lone appearance in the past month came on Feb. 6, when he made 29 saves in a 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Lundqvist will start Saturday in Philadelphia and likely will be in net Sunday against Boston.
"Everybody is ready to get back after it, especially the guys that weren't in Sochi," Talbot said. "It's been a long week of practice for us, so we're ready to play a game. Even the guys that were in Sochi are ready to get back after it. We still have a lot of time left to go, we can still move up in the standings here, so we know every game is important."
Vigneault said defenseman Marc Staal will be a game-time decision because of a sore back. Staal, though, participated in the optional morning skate and Vigneault said if nothing changes in his status he will play against Chicago.
Here is the Rangers' expected lineup:
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
J.T. Miller - Derick Brassard - Benoit Pouliot
Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Daniel Carcillo
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (left hand)
Scratched: Justin Falk, Derek Dorsett