After a pair of shutout losses brought the New York Rangers’ red-hot stretch to a close, they’re hoping a tight victory gave them a push back in the right direction.
Winning in Pittsburgh could give them an even bigger boost.
The Rangers look to make it three wins in four meetings with the Penguins on Sunday as they try to continue the recent mastery of their Metropolitan Division rivals.
New York (25-13-4) won 13 of 14 from Dec. 8-Jan. 10, a stretch in which it ranked as both the NHL’s best defensive unit with 1.57 goals allowed per contest and third-best offense with 3.57 per game.
The run, which included six road wins against Western Conference opponents, ended abruptly when the Rangers suffered 3-0 shutouts in consecutive contests to the New York Islanders and Boston. New York bounced back Friday with a 2-1 victory at Columbus.
"You always want to get back on the winning train. Losing two, it’s never fun," Henrik Lundqvist told the team’s official website. "We had so many good times out West, enjoying the great atmosphere in the locker room. You do that when you win.
"Then suddenly you lose two, and guys start to get a little more tense. You definitely try to get back there as soon as you can, so it was a big game for us."
Lundqvist made 35 saves to support the Rangers’ scuffling offense, which has noticeably wavered without contributions from Rick Nash. He scored nine goals over New York’s 14-game swing, but has been held without a point in each of the last three. Nash ranks among the league leaders with 26 goals this season.
Lundqvist has won 12 of his last 14 starts behind a 1.67 goals against average.
That stretch began when he made 32 saves in a 4-3 overtime home win against Pittsburgh (26-11-6) on Dec. 8, improving to 5-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA and a .962 save percentage in his last six starts in the series – including the final three games of the Rangers’ Eastern Conference semifinals comeback win.
The Penguins enter their fourth and final meeting with the Rangers this season hoping to regain the offensive firepower they unleashed in a 7-2 win over Minnesota on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scored the first two goals against the Islanders on Friday but gave up the final four in the third period, losing 6-3.
"We just didn’t raise our level of play enough in the third period," Sidney Crosby told the Penguins’ official website. "At the start of it, we did. But as the (third) period went on, we didn’t make smart plays. We hurt ourselves with some of the decisions we made."
Crosby almost single-handedly carried the Penguins’ offense Friday, scoring two goals and assisting on the third to match Evgeni Malkin with a team-high 50 points.
Crosby had an assist in the December loss to the Rangers after falling to produce a point in the previous five meetings, including the playoffs. Malkin has three goals and two assists in that six-game stretch.
Marc-Andre Fleury will look to end a particularly poor stretch Sunday as he makes his fifth consecutive start. Fleury is 3-4-2 with a 2.96 GAA in his past 10 starts, and the five goals he allowed Friday matched a season high set in a 5-0 road loss to the Rangers on Nov. 11.
Nash had a goal and two assists in that win and has two goals and three assists against the Penguins this season after being held to one assist in the playoff series.