Last spring, the New York Rangers were, to put it extremely nicely, humbled by a Pittsburgh Penguins team that reversed back-to-back years of bad playoff mojo on them in a five-game series whose outcome was never truly in doubt.
Off to a hot start of the season that has hit a small roadblock, the Rangers will receive a big indicator of where they stand with one of the league’s elite heading into Thanksgiving, as they’ll take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a home-and-home set, starting tonight at PPG Paints Arena. (7:00, MSG).
The Rangers (13-5-1) are currently up two points on Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division (albeit with a game in hand) but lost back to back games for the first time this season when they fell 3-2 to the Florida Panthers in a shootout. Mika Zibanejad scored a goal before going down with a broken fibula during the overtime period, an injury that will keep him out 6-8 weeks. Chris Kreider scored the other goal for the Rangers, his first since October 17.
The Penguins (11-4-3) are likewise coming off a shootout loss, falling 2-1 to the Sabres in Buffalo. Sidney Crosby scored on the power play to earn Pittsburgh a point, but were otherwise unable to solve Anders Nilsson, who made 46 saves.
These two games will be the first couple of five games this season between the Rangers and the defending Stanley Cup champions. The two teams have squared off in each of the past three editions of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the most notable of which were the 2014 meetings during the Eastern Conference semifinals. Down 3-1 in the series, the Rangers rattled off three consecutive wins, en route to their appearance in that season’s Stanley Cup Final. After the Rangers won the 2015 quarterfinal set in five, one that ironically ended with Carl Hagelin, current Penguin, scoring the game winning goal for the Rangers in overtime, the Penguins duplicated the feat last season, en route to the fourth Stanley Cup title in team history.
The Rangers will complete their fourth back-to-back set of the season tonight. The won the second half of each of the previous three, most recently on November 13, when topped Edmonton 3-1 after a 4-1 win in Calgary the night before.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490