What to Watch For: Pens vs. Rangers
Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 6:00 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
WHEN: April 5, 2012 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The New York Rangers sealed both the Atlantic Division championship and first place in the Eastern Conference with their win over the Flyers on Tuesday, a spot they’d managed to hold onto since Dec. 30. If the Blueshirts win each of their remaining two games against Pittsburgh on Thursday and Washington on Saturday, they will eclipse the franchise records of 112 points and 52 wins set in 1993-94, their last Stanley Cup season – and the previous time they had clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.
After a stretch last month where the Rangers lost four of six and had the surging Penguins climb within a point of them in the standings with their impressive 13-0-1 run, the Blueshirts have reasserted themselves by winning five of their last six contests.
Speedy winger Marian Gaborik has points in all six of those games, scoring six goals, four assists and 10 points over that stretch. He now has 41 goals this season, one shy of tying his previous career high set in both 2007-08 with Minnesota and in 2009-10, his first season with New York. Linemate Brad Richards has also been steadily producing with nine points (1G-8A) in his last six games and 21 points (7G-14A) in his last 15.
But it’s not just the Rangers’ top line that’s performing, as third-line center Brian Boyle has four goals in his last seven outings to up his season total to 10. He couldn’t be finding his offensive game at a better time, as playoff series are often defined by grinders and workhorses like him, Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko
So with all of that being said, don’t be surprised if coach John Tortorella tries resting some of his star players in the team’s second-to-last game of the regular season and giving some of his depth players more ice time. He’ll almost certainly have to rest goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who injured his right forearm in the second period of Tuesday’s game when he absorbed a hard shot from Philly’s Claude Giroux.
Though Lundqvist stayed in the game, he was icing the area afterward and told reporters his arm was stiff and he had trouble gripping his stick. That means Martin Biron will likely get the start Thursday in Pittsburgh after backing up the last 10 tilts behind Lundqvist. Biron, who got the loss the last time these two teams met on March 15, has an overall record of 12-5-2 this season and his next game will be his 500th..
RANGERS: BRIAN BOYLE
Boyle scored a career-high 21 goals last season with the Rangers, a total he hasn’t come anywhere close to this year as he has just 10 tallies through 80 games. But he is certainly finishing the regular season strong, as four of those have come in the last seven games. And the hulking 6-foot-7, 244-pound grinder couldn’t have rediscovered his offensive game at a better time with the Rangers fast approaching the playoffs. Pair a scoring touch with everything else he brings to the ice – a physical presence and shot-blocking ability – and he could be a key factor for New York next week, who is 20-1-1 when he records a point.
PENGUINS: EVGENI MALKIN
Malkin enters Thursday’s game riding a six-game point streak, where he’s posted three goals and seven assists, and has at least one point in 12 of his last 13 contests. He’s upped his lead over Steven Stamkos in the NHL scoring race to 10 points with just two games left in the regular season, so Malkin is virtually a lock to win this year’s Art Ross Trophy. But what is still uncertain is whether Malkin can become the ninth player in franchise history to reach the 50-goal mark. He sits two shy of that plateau entering these final two contests, and it will be interesting to see if he can reach it against a pair of skilled teams.
Pittsburgh needs to earn two points in its remaining two games to clinch home-ice advantage for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
A win Thursday would give the Penguins 50 wins for just the second time in franchise history (56 in 1992-93). It would also give the Penguins 106 points this season – tying last year’s total, which was the second-highest point total in franchise history (team record is 119 in ’92-93).
Pittsburgh leads the season series against the Rangers, 3-2, after winning each of the last three meetings between the teams. A win Thursday would give the Penguins a winning record against New York for the third time in the last four seasons.
Pittsburgh is 13-3-4 in its last 20 home games against New York. The Penguins have gone 22-10-8 in their last 40 overall meetings against the Rangers.
Sidney Crosby is red hot with nine points (3G-6A) over his last three games. Crosby enters Thursday’s game with goals in four of his last seven games (five total). Crosby now has eight multiple-point contests in 12 games since his most recent comeback on Mar. 15. In those 12 games, Crosby has 22 points (5G-17A) for an average of 1.83 per game.
Overall this season, Crosby has finished with two or more points in 12 of his 20 games played. Crosby’s opening goal against Boston was his 604th career point – moving him past Jean Pronovost into sole possession of fifth-place on the franchise’s all-time point list.
The Rangers' power play currently sits in the bottom third of the NHL but has been heating up lately, as it has tallied seven goals in the last four games (7-18, 38.8% over the span). Forward Derek Stepan's return to the point on March 28 vs. Winnipeg has greatly benefited New York's power play, which is also 12-47 (25.5%) in the last 13 games. The Blueshirts have posted a record of 25-1-4 in games when tallying a power play goal.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen was shaken up toward the end of the second period of Tuesday's 5-3 win in Boston after Daniel Paille ran him over in the corner of the Penguins zone. Niskanen was slow getting up and went straight to the locker room. He did not return to the game.
Forward Joe Vitale went down late in the third period when a Zdeno Chara wrist shot struck him in the head under his visor. Vitale fell immediately to the ice in obvious pain.
“There are no updates,” Bylsma said after the game. “Everyone will be evaluated back in Pittsburgh."
The Penguins did recall defenseman Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday. For full details, click here.
D Ben Lovejoy, knee (5)
F Mats Zuccarello, broken wrist (6)
D Steve Eminger, lower body (10)
D Michael Sauer, concussion (56)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo