RANGERS (20-19-2) at PENGUINS (29-12-1)
TV: RDS, MSG 2, ROOT
Last 10: New York 5-4-1; Pittsburgh 8-2-0
Season series: This is the third of four games between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins split the first two at Madison Square Garden, winning the most recent game 4-3 on a shootout goal by Brandon Sutter.
Big story: Pittsburgh's injury woes have been well-documented, not that they've stopped the Penguins from surging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Though they had addressed the holes in their lineup mostly with American Hockey League call-ups, on Thursday they claimed veteran forward Taylor Pyatt off waivers from the Rangers. Pyatt, who played the past two seasons in New York, could end up facing his former team right off the bat.
Rangers: Pyatt's departure was an indication captain Ryan Callahan would make his return to the New York lineup Friday, news which became official Friday morning. Callahan was expected to miss 4-6 weeks as the result of a left knee sprain sustained Dec. 10 against the Nashville Predators.
New York is part of a logjam in the Metropolitan Division battling for Stanley Cup Playoff positioning behind Pittsburgh, and will be looking to extend its win streak to three games. The Rangers completed a sweep of the Florida portion of their road trip with a 2-1 shootout win Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
"I think it's important that we're putting the right amount of pressure on ourselves to perform at our best level," goalie Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Daily News. "We're going to need it down the stretch. It's always fun to start the second half of the season, as long as you look at it the right way and see it as a big challenge to try to come back here and have a strong couple months and get us in."
Penguins: Coming in off a rare loss, 2-1 at the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, there was hope Pittsburgh might get an impact player or two of its own back. Forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang have been skating, but neither will play Friday. Letang last played Dec. 13, while Malkin was injured one night later.
Meanwhile, it was announced Thursday forward Chris Conner has a hand injury that will require surgery and will miss 6-8 weeks. That means more opportunity for other role players like Joe Vitale, who has played all over the lineup, including on the top line.
"He's probably playing as well as I've ever seen him play right now," forward Craig Adams said of Vitale. "When he's going well he's using his speed really well. That's what he has to continue to do. If there's a chance to make a play, you make it. If he keeps his game going north-south and making simpler plays, more often than not he'll continue to be successful."
Who's hot: Lundqvist has won consecutive starts for the Rangers, stopping 58 of 62 shots (.935 save percentage). … Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen scored their only goal Tuesday and has three in his past six games.
Injury report: New York is now fully healthy with Callahan back. … In addition to Malkin, Letang and Conner, goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defenseman Paul Martin (leg), and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Andrew Ebbett (ankle), Jayson Megna (lower body) and Pascal Dupuis (knee) are out for Pittsburgh.
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