NHL on NBCSN: Reloaded Red Wings, Rangers set to battle tonight

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Detroit Red Wings host the New York Rangers at Joe Louis Arena at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

At this stage of the season, the Red Wings and Rangers have all-but secured a postseason berth and have their eyes on the playoffs. They were both active buyers in the lead up to the trade deadline with the Rangers adding defenseman Keith Yandle and forward James Sheppard while the Red Wings have welcomed blueliner Marek Zidlicky and winger Erik Cole to their ranks. Part of these final weeks of the regular season will be about integrating their new talent and getting into a playoff mindset, but they also have more immediate goals in mind.

Thanks to the parity in the conference, just about any team that makes the playoffs in the east will have a legitimate shot of going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. With the competition that tight, every little edge counts and both the Red Wings and Rangers have a chance to make life much easier for themselves in April and beyond by successfully securing the Atlantic and Metropolitan Division titles respectively.

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The Rangers are in a far better position to take their division going into this game. They’re just one point behind the leading Islanders despite having played in three fewer games. At the same time, the Rangers have to look over their shoulder as Pittsburgh has been surging lately and is just three points shy of overtaking them, making it still entirely conceivable that New York will not only miss out on first place, but also fail to secure the home ice advantage in the first round.

By getting Yandle, the Rangers arguably made the biggest splash in the trade market, so that gives them an advantage over their competition. Coming from Arizona, Yandle is thrilled to be part of a winning team.

“If you just look at the back end out, the Rangers are as strong as any team,” Yandle, who has been paired with Kevin Klein, said. “They are fast up front, have tons of speed and skill, and the goaltending is best in the league. I can’t find a weak flaw in the lineup so it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

Detroit’s in a more difficult position as it currently ranks third with 81 points behind Tampa Bay (84) and Montreal (87) in the Atlantic. However, the Red Wings have played in four less games than the Lightning and two fewer than the Canadiens, so they’re not entirely out of the race yet.

Cole and Zidlicky are projected to make their Red Wings’ debut tonight, but the big news out of Detroit is that Henrik Zetterberg (concussion) might be ready to return after skating with the team on Tuesday, per the team’s website. If the practice lines yesterday prove to be accurate, then Zetterberg will play alongside Cole and Justin Abdelkader, while Tomas Jurco, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar will form the other top-two line. Cole’s addition has also given the Red Wings the luxury of moving Gustav Nyquist to the third line. That provides them the depth needed to compete in a lengthy playoff run or, more immediately, take on New York tonight.