The New York Rangers have ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Owning home-ice advantage would improve their chances at doing it again.
The Rangers attempt to separate themselves further from the injury-riddled Penguins in the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division in this potential first-round playoff preview Sunday night.
New York (43-24-8) has won five of the last seven matchups with Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, including two of three while winning last season's first-round postseason series in five games. However, the Rangers fell 5-3 in the most recent matchup at MSG on March 13.
Another playoff series is possible with the Rangers leading the third-place Penguins by four points with seven games remaining.
Pittsburgh is also trying to hold off the New York Islanders, who are one point back and in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins (41-25-8) continued their high-octane offense Saturday with a 7-2 rout of Detroit, scoring four times in the second period. They are averaging 3.75 goals during a 7-1-0 surge.
Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino set career highs with five points apiece. Bonino's effort was a major surprise since he matched his production from the previous 13 games, despite being a game-time decision with an upper-body injury.
The scoring outburst also came with star center Evgeni Malkin sidelined for at least four more weeks with an arm injury.
“He had a terrific game for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Bonino on the team's official website. “When we're in the situation we're in right now with some of the injuries that we have, we need guys to step up at key times and he certainly did.”
Sullivan has already ruled out defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who suffered an upper-body injury while being checked Saturday. It's unknown if Chris Kunitz will also be out with an upper-body injury that forced him to leave in the second period.
“We'll re-evaluate (Kunitz) and he'll be a game-time decision,” Sullivan said.
One player whose status isn't in question is Sidney Crosby, who has 21 points over the last 14 games. He has three goals and two assists in his last three visits to MSG.
Conor Sheary unexpectedly scored twice at New York this month, but those are the rookie forward's only points over his last 13 games.
Chris Kreider has a goal in each of the last two meetings with the Penguins. He had no points in five games before scoring twice and assisting on Derick Brassard's tally in Saturday's 5-2 win at Montreal.
“We're trying to find chemistry between lines right now,” said Brassard, who added two assists. “Chris is a big part of our team. To see him score two goals like that and be involved in the game, that's something our team is pretty excited about.
“Hopefully it's going to give him some confidence. I really like our line.”
Brassard has 23 points in his last 25 games against Pittsburgh, including 13 in 12 at MSG. He has one point in each of the past seven matchups there.
The Rangers are expected to have Henrik Lundqvist in net after backup Antti Raanta made 24 saves against the Canadiens.
Lundqvist is 21-5-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average at home. He owns a 1.95 GAA while winning five of his last seven there against the Penguins, including four playoff matchups.
He stopped 28 of 32 shots against them earlier this month.