- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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At a glance: After a grueling five-games-in-seven-nights stretch, the New York Rangers received a much-needed day off to rest from what coach Alain Vigneault called the team’s “stupid” schedule. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, the Pittsburgh Penguins also got a day to recharge the batteries heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night (7:30 ET) at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins have rattled off consecutive wins for a 2-1 series lead and can put a stranglehold on the series with another win at MSG before heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. This marks the first time the Rangers are trailing in a series this postseason, so Wednesday’s match is a tough challenge considering the momentum Pittsburgh gained with back-to-back wins in Games 2 and 3.
Don’t shoot high: Despite all the lingering questions dogging him after last spring’s meltdown, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been outstanding of late, recording two straight shutouts for Pittsburgh. The Rangers will have to switch things up against the 29-year-old netminder, and they got a useful tip from an unlikely source recently. According to Vigneault, Penguins team owner Mario Lemieux told Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson that “Anything Fleury can catch, he will catch.” Fleury did make a number of superb glove saves against New York, so look for the Blueshirts to drive the net and create more traffic in front, looking for better rebound chances.
Sid’s starring role: You knew it was only a matter of time, so it was no surprise that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby finally snapped a 13-game goal drought with his first goal of the 2014 playoffs in Monday’s victory. Crosby has been dynamic in the Penguins’ past two victories, so keeping him contained will be key for the Rangers to tie the series. Defenseman Marc Staal sure seems to relish being physical against the superstar center, but he’ll have to navigate the fine line of making life tough for No. 87 versus taking unwanted penalties and putting a dangerous Penguins power play on the ice.
Not again: Speaking of power plays, you can practically hear the collective groan every time the Rangers draw a penalty. That’s because the Rangers’ maligned unit has been abysmal this spring. New York has been stopped on 34 straight attempts -- a total confidence killer for a Rangers squad that showed dramatic improvement on the man advantage during the regular season.
Boost up front? Forward Chris Kreider, who has been sidelined for the entire playoffs with a fractured left hand, is now medically cleared to play. Vigneault would not say whether the 23-year-old winger will be available Wednesday night, but the development is a significant one toward his return. Kreider, who had 17 goals and 37 points during the regular season, has missed 19 straight games with the injury. Should he return to the lineup, his speed, size and skill could provide a needed dynamic for the Rangers up front.
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