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Rangers play the season’s biggest game against the Penguins at MSG

Bobby Bevilacqua

Rangers vs Penguins 3-13

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

In arguably the most important game of the season, the Rangers (43-24-8) will battle the Pittsburgh Penguins (41-25-8) in a divisional rivalry that could decide the home ice advantage in a likely first-round playoff series between these two teams.

The Rangers currently hold the second place position in the Metropolitan Division, sitting four points ahead of the Pens, although they have a game in hand. Both teams have also been playing very well as of late. New York has won three straight games while Pittsburgh has won seven of their last eight games after losing Evgeni Malkin to injury.

Following a statement win over the Canadiens, tonight marks a great opportunity for the Rangers to gain a foothold in the division and make things easier for themselves as the season comes to a close. Points against the Penguins could secure home ice advantage in the first round.

This is the fourth and final season this meeting between the two rivals, and the third time they will play this month. The Penguins have come out on top in two of the games so far, including the last two games. The only Rangers win was a 3-0 shutout at the CONSOL Energy Center, with goals from Kevin Hayes, Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast. The Penguins win 4-1 in the next game, which is remembered for Lundqvist pushing the net over after a collision. Chris Kreider scored the only goal in that contest. And two weeks ago, the Penguins won 5-3 in a Sunday matinee after scoring twice late. The Rangers battled back from one goal deficits three times, the last goal coming from Ryan McDonagh 5:04 into the third period.

Marc-Andre Fleury started last night in Detroit, picking up his 33rd win of the season after a 21 save performance. There’s a chance he could start tonight because of the importance of the game, but rookie Matthew Murray is another option. Murray is 4-2-1 so far with a .935 save percentage and a 1.85 GAA. In his last start, he stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced against Carolina. He’s allowed two goals or less in six of his seven career starts.

Carl Hagelin has been heating up lately, and it’s come at the right time for Pittsburgh with Malkin sidelined. Hagelin scored twice in yesterday’s win over the Red Wings, and now has 20 points (7-13-20) in 29 games with the Penguins. His speed fits perfectly on the wing in the top six, and he has six points (3-3-6) in the last five games.

After a slow start to the season, Sidney Crosby has had a tremendous mid-season surge. Through 73 games, he has totaled 77 points (31-46-77), including 21 points (6-15-21) in the last 15 games. Along with Phil Kessel, who had a career high five point performance (1-4-5) against the Red Wings, Crosby is always a dangerous offensive player.

Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the Rangers after getting the night off yesterday, and he’s looking for his third straight win. He stopped 39 shots against Boston in his last start, and has made 30+ saves in three of his last four starts. Hank is 33-19-6 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.40 GAA.

Keith Yandle had another fantastic game last night, picking up another two assists and making him the first Ranger defenseman to record 38 assists in a season since Brian Leetch in 2001-02. Yandle has been a dominant force on the power play, helping the Rangers score five goals on the man advantage over the last three games. Vigneault has given more ice time lately, and he’s taken advantage of it. Look for Yandle to have a big part of tonight’s game.

Derek Stepan picked up a goal and an assist last night, giving him six points (2-4-5) in the last three games alone. He’s been scoring at a torrid pace as of late, with five goals and 10 assists in the last 14 games. He’s been playing really well with Mats Zuccarello and JT Miller, and the Rangers will rely on him to play a strong two way game again.

No lineup changes are expected.

The Rangers and the Penguins will faceoff at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 PM. The game will be broadcasted on NBCSN.

EXPECTED LINEUP

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Jesper Fast

JT Miller-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on March 27, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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