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WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

[WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers]

Projected Lines

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards

Claude GirouxSean CouturierMichael Raffl

Oskar LindblomNolan Patrick – Jake Voracek

Travis KonecnyValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMatt Read

Defense

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting Goalie: Brian Elliott

[NHL On NBCSN: Flyers look to clinch playoff spot against Rangers]

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadRyan Spooner

Jimmy VeseyFilip ChytilMats Zuccarello

Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesPavel Buchnevich

Paul Carey –  Lias AnderssonPeter Holland

Defense

Marc StaalNeal Pionk

BradySkjei – Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour – Rob O’Gara

Starting Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lundqvist, rebuilding Rangers brace for rough road ahead

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WASHINGTON — Henrik Lundqvist got an early glimpse into the New York Rangers’ rebuilding future.

It’s not pretty.

Lundqvist roiled with frustration after a rookie defensemen left an opponent wide open for a tying goal that led to New York’s 44th loss of a lost season. As Zen-like as he was earlier in the day about the new organizational direction toward youth and away from trying to win now, the face of the franchise for more than a decade was bothered by a mistake caused by inexperience that’s sure to be repeated over the coming years.

”So frustrating,” Lundqvist said.

When general manager Jeff Gorton committed the Rangers to a roster refresh that laid waste to 2018 playoff hopes and set the stage for pain that could last longer than Lundqvist’s prime, the star goaltender battled his own internal conflict. The 36-year-old from Sweden had never played in an NHL game with no chance of making the playoffs.

”As a competitor, you want to win, and I never experienced that before where you’re like, ‘We can’t go for this,”’ Lundqvist said Wednesday, hours after the Rangers were eliminated from contention but several weeks since it became clear they wouldn’t make the postseason. ”It was definitely a new experience. But we’re all on board in this.”

Lundqvist and his veteran Rangers teammates have two choices: get on board or be tossed overboard. When it became apparent this team didn’t have the stuff to compete for the Stanley Cup, Gorton traded captain Ryan McDonagh and forwards Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner before the deadline and set a course for the future.

With three years left on Lundqvist’s contract at $8.5 million per season, how far away that future is remains painfully unclear. After 11 playoff appearances and a trip to the final with Lundqvist as the backbone, the Rangers may not get within reach of the Cup in his prime or even his career – but even current players see the need for change.

”I think it’s good for this organization to get some fresh air and some new young players and go from there,” 30-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello said. ”But it’s going to be a process.”

The process began last summer with the trade of veteran center Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh overall pick that turned into Lias Andersson and the selection of Filip Chytil later in the first round. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei are young building blocks already in place, and there’s hope that free agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk and trade acquisition Vladislav Namestnikov become part of the long-term solution.

When the Rangers played at Washington on Wednesday night in their first game with no hope of playoffs since 2004, they dressed 15 players age 26 and younger. New York’s future is its present, which can mean blunders like Neal Pionk‘s missed assignment in front, along with the excitement and potential of prospects like the 22-year-old defenseman, Andersson and Chytil.

”When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players, that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us,” Lundqvist said.

With a full no-movement clause and the equity he has built up with the Rangers, Lundqvist can choose his future. Others, like Zuccarello and coach Alain Vigneault, aren’t so fortunate.

In February, when he announced plans to go young, Gorton didn’t want to answer a question about whether Vigneault would be back next season other than to praise his coaching and say, ”We’re all responsible in some way here for what we’re seeing.” This spring will be the first time in a decade Vigneault hasn’t coached in the playoffs, a tough turn for the 56-year-old who almost certainly will be behind an NHL bench somewhere next season.

”A tough decision was made for the long-term future of this organization and you have to respect it and you have to do your jobs,” Vigneault said Wednesday. ”That’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what my staff is trying to do and that’s what the players are trying to do.”

Try as they might to focus on the final few games of the season, the Rangers feel the threat of drastic change that hangs over them. Lundqvist said ”now is not the time” to talk about the bumpy road ahead.

Describing one of the most successful runs in franchise history, Zuccarello used words like lucky, fortunate and even spoiled. In a sport with a salary cap, it’s difficult to remain among the top teams for even this long, and now everyone is bracing for the uncertainty of what’s next.

”This is a new situation for most of the guys that have been here for a while, but you have to buy in, you know?” Zuccarello said. ”It is what it is. It’s nothing you can do about it. … Hopefully I have some good years – five, six good years – left and can be part of the rebuild and come to the good times again.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Rangers at Capitals

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE]

PROJECTED LINES

New York Rangers

Chris Kreider / Mika Zibanejad / Jesper Fast

Kevin Hayes / Filip Chytil / Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey / Lias Andersson / Ryan Spooner

Cody McLeod / Vladislav Namestnikov / Pavel Buchnevich

Marc Staal / Neal Pionk

Brady Skjei / Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour / Rob O'Gara

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Rangers – Capitals preview]

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Evgeny Kuznetsov / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Nicklas Backstrom / T.J. Oshie

Shane Gersich / Lars Eller / Devante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Alex Chiasson

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Brooks Orpik / Christian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE]

PROJECTED LINES

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Evgeny Kuznetsov / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Nicklas Backstrom / T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly / Lars Eller / Jakub Vrana

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Jakub Jerabek / Brooks Orpik

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[Capitals – Rangers preview]

New York Rangers

Chris Kreider / Mika Zibanejad / Jesper Fast

Kevin Hayes / Filip Chytil / Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey / Lias Andersson / Ryan Spooner

Cody McLeod / Vladislav Namestnikov / Pavel Buchnevich

Marc Staal / Neal Pionk

Brady Skjei / Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour / Rob O'Gara

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Penguins vs. Canadiens; Red Wings vs. Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday night. In the early game, the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here. 

The Penguins head to Montreal a day after blowing a 2-0 third period lead to the New York Rangers. “Cocky” was the word defenseman Kris Letang used to describe Pittsburgh’s play in the third period. Sloppy play and a sense that the game was already over cost them in the final 20 minutes, which saw their opponents force overtime before Mika Zibanejad ended things.

“There’s a fine line between losing and winning in this league,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said afterward. “You can’t play 40 minutes and think you are going to win.”

After Thursday’s game, the Penguins will have four days off before heading to Brooklyn to face the New York Islanders. This three-game road trip is an opportunity to pick up points against non-playoff teams as they stay in the hunt for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but games like the one against the Rangers will cost them.

“We threw away that game in the third,” Letang said. “It was like we were not even interested. We have to learn from that. In this league there’s no bad team. There are teams that are outside the playoffs, but there are still tons of good players on those teams. They’ll make you pay if you don’t respect them.”

In the late game, the Detroit Red Wings head out west to take on the Los Angeles Kings at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

Like the Penguins, the Kings are currently in a playoff spot, but with not as good of a cushion with several teams chasing them in the Pacific Division.  LA plays tonight and Saturday against the New Jersey Devils before heading out on a big four-game road trip against the Wild, Jets, Avalance and Oilers.

While the Kings added Tobias Rieder, Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26, their biggest acquisition was the return of Jeff Carter, who missed four months after suffering a lacerated ankle tendon. The forward has six goals in nine games since coming back into the lineup as they’ve kept pace in the Western Conference playoff picture.

“I think it’s tough for guys that have been injured for a long time trying to get back, and the schedule is what it is,” said Kings head coach John Stevens. “If you look around the league, there are some really good hockey teams that on certain nights, they really lack energy, so for an injured guy coming back in his situation, it’s hard. But Jeff’s a pro. He knows how to dig deep within himself to make a difference, and he has.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.