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Pens, Rangers continue pursuit of Flyers

by Dan Rosen
PENGUINS (15-8-2) at RANGERS (14-10-1)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 8-1-1; New York 7-3-0

Season series: This is the second of six meetings between the clubs this season. The first one was a thriller won by the Rangers in overtime, 3-2, on Nov. 15.

Big Story -- Both Atlantic Division teams are playing well yet neither can catch the red-hot Flyers. This is the first time they've seen each other since that fantastic finish in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Chris Kunitz scored the tying goal with 2:31 left in regulation and Matt Cooke gave the Penguins the lead 38 seconds later. Pittsburgh went on a power play right after Cooke's goal when Henrik Lundqvist whacked his stick over the crossbar and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. However, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal managed to slither in a shorthanded goal with 1:26 to play and then Ryan Callahan won it for the Blueshirts in overtime on a fantastic 2-on-1 with Brandon Dubinsky.

Team Scope:

Penguins -- Six years into his career and Sidney Crosby has arguably never been better. Crosby is on pace for his best season ever and he enters Monday leading the NHL with 40 points on 18 goals and 22 assists. He recorded his first hat trick of the season and sixth of his career in Saturday's 4-1 win over Calgary. He nearly had four goals, but he missed on a penalty shot in the first period. Crosby's second goal Saturday was the 200th of his career. He's simply on fire, and not coincidentally so is his team. Crosby has 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points during his current 12 game point streak.

"An elite-level player like him has great creativity in his game and a tremendous skill set," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said of Crosby following Saturday's game. "It's because of his work ethic, and how hard he plays every shift."

Rangers -- The Rangers return home winners of four of their last five games. The big thing about the wins in Florida and Nashville over the weekend was that Henrik Lundqvist got his act together. Lundqvist was struggling with a personal three game losing streak heading into the game against the Panthers, but he made 40 saves for the shutout in Sunrise, Fla. and another 29 saves in a 2-1 shootout victory in the Music City. Lundqvist was perfect against three Nashville shooters in the skills competition.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself (in shootouts) because I want to help the team get that extra point," Lundqvist said. "Last season showed that extra point can be huge. To come up with all three stops in the shootout felt really good for me."

Who's Hot -- Penguins defenseman Kris Letang picked up three assists in Saturday's win and now has 18 on the season and 22 points. Rangers forward Ryan Callahan scored his second goal in as many games Saturday after going five games without a goal. Callahan's last goal prior to scoring in Florida was the OT winner in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

Injury Report -- The Penguins are still waiting for Jordan Staal (broken hand) to get on the ice this season. He's at least on the mend for the second time. The Rangers are still without Chris Drury (finger) and Vinny Prospal (knee). Michal Rozsival returned Saturday after sitting out nine games, but Marian Gaborik missed the game in Nashville with the flu. They're hoping he's fine for Monday's game at MSG.

Stat Pack -- Lundqvist on Saturday improved to 31-21 for his career in games decided by a shootout. … The Rangers' power play is 41 for 45 (91.1 percent) in the last 13 games. Their record over that time is 8-5-0. … The Penguins have allowed only four goals in their last four games and entered Sunday ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against (2.36).

Puck Drop -- Rangers coach John Tortorella reportedly talked with the team prior to Saturday's game in Nashville about fighting through fatigue. The message got through as the team did just enough to pick up two points despite playing their third road game in four nights.

"We talked about it in our (pregame) meeting that if we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the year, this is the kind of game -- last of a road trip, coming off a big win, played a lot of games in this stretch here -- we have to find a way to win," Tortorella said. "These are the points at the end of the year that kill you if you don't get them. It was a good gut-check for us in getting points that we needed to get."

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