Thursday, April 5, 2012
W2W4: Rangers vs. Penguins
By Katie Strang
At a glance: The last time these two met it was a battle of the best in the East, not to mention the second return of a guy named Sidney Crosby. A lot has changed since March 15, a 5-2 Penguins win at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers steadied their play to secure the Eastern Conference title while the streaking Pens cooled off in the final weeks of the regular season.
What's at stake: There are no playoff implications on the line for the Rangers, although the team can push for the President's Trophy with wins in the final two games of the year. With a 5-3 win over the Flyers on Tuesday, New York clinched the first Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division title since the 1993-94 Stanley Cup-winning season. The Penguins could really use the two points heading into the postseason, however. Still locked into a battle with Philadelphia for the No. 4 seed, the Penguins can open a first-round series in Pittsburgh with a win Thursday.
Sid's streaking: Since his second comeback from a lengthy battle with post-concussion symptoms, NHL superstar Sidney Crosby has wasted not time returning to peak form. The 24-year-old captain has recorded 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) in the last 12 games and enters Thursday's match on a three-game streak. Twice in the last month he has delivered four-point efforts, including a one-goal, three-assists performance in the Penguins' 5-3 win vs. Buffalo on March 30.
Biron in goal: After making 10 straight starts, Henrik Lundqvist finally receives a night off. With the Rangers' clinch of the East and Lundqvist nursing a stiff right arm, Martin Biron will make his first start since March 15, a 5-2 loss against the Penguins in Crosby's second return this season.
Power-ful play: One indication the Rangers are readying themselves for the playoffs? The power play is finally coming around. In three of the last four games, the Blueshirts have recorded two or more power-play goals. If they do so at Consol Energy Center on Thursday, they will be in good shape. After tallying three man-up goals against the Flyers Thursday, the Rangers improved to 25-1-4 in games during which they have scored at least one power-play goal.
Watch out: Rangers top prospect Chris Kreider is in action tonight as his Boston College Eagles take on the Minnesota Gophers as the NCAA's Frozen Four kicks off in Tampa. Kreider will have a big decision to make soon regardless of whether BC can win the big prize. The Rangers are waiting to see if the 21-year-old center will forego his senior season and turn pro after his season ends. If he does bolt, Kreider would be eligible to compete for the Rangers in the playoffs.