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Preview: Penguins at Rangers

New York can clinch at least first wild card in East; Penguins try to end four-game losing streak

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PENGUINS (46-19-11) at RANGERS (46-26-5)

7 p.m. ET; SN, MSG2, ROOT, NHL.TV

 

Penguins team scope

The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to stay on the heels of the Columbus Blue Jackets for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins are in third place, three points behind the Blue Jackets, who play at the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday. However, Pittsburgh has lost four straight games (0-2-2), including the past two in regulation against the Philadelphia Flyers and Blackhawks by a combined score of 11-3. "Quite honestly, our main focus is on our team right now," coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're just trying to make sure we're in the right frame of mind to give ourselves a chance to win regardless of who our opponent is. We've lost a couple here over the last week and we want to try to do the right things to try to get back in the win column." The Penguins will likely get two players back from injury; forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Ron Hainsey said they're ready to return after participating in an optional morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "They're highly probable," Sullivan said. Guentzel's return means Sullivan can put the top line back together. Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Guentzel combined for 13 goals and 33 points in eight games before Guentzel was sidelined with a concussion from a hit by Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen on March 21. Pittsburgh hasn't won since Guentzel was forced out of the lineup. "They were fun to watch, I'll tell you that," Sullivan said of the Sheary-Crosby-Guentzel line. "They're three guys that think the game at a high level. I think they're three real competitive guys."

 

Rangers team scope

The New York Rangers can guarantee they'll be at least the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with a win of any kind against the Penguins. To do so, they'll have to end a seven-game home losing streak (0-5-2). "We've found ways not to win," center Derek Stepan said. They haven't won at Madison Square Garden since Feb. 19. "Playing in New York, playing at Madison Square Garden, that's the place you want to be very confident and you want to be excited," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who will make his third straight start since returning from a hip injury. "For that to happen obviously we need to start winning some games. You also have to realize teams come in and I bet they're going to put on their working boots and play their best game to try to beat us. Just start [Friday], first period, get a good start and then start building." The Rangers will be without captain Ryan McDonagh for the first time since Dec. 13. McDonagh is out with an undisclosed injury, and coach Alain Vigneault said he is day to day. "Nothing serious," Vigneault said. The Rangers are 3-4-3 in their past 10 games. "We need to play well at home," Vigneault said. "We're very aware of that."

 

Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sidney Crosby -- Conor Sheary

Chris Kunitz -- Nick Bonino -- Patric Hornqvist

Scott Wilson -- Carter Rowney -- Phil Kessel

Tom Kuhnhackl -- Matt Cullen -- Bryan Rust

Brian Dumoulin -- Justin Schultz

Mark Streit -- Ron Hainsey

Ian Cole -- Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Cameron Gaunce

Injured: Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Kris Letang (upper body), Trevor Daley (knee), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Olli Maatta (hand), Tom Sestito (upper body)

 

Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Derek Stepan -- Mats Zuccarello

Pavel Buchnevich -- Mika Zibanejad -- Rick Nash

Michael Grabner -- Kevin Hayes -- Jesper Fast

Matt Puempel -- Oscar Lindberg -- J.T. Miller

Marc Staal -- Kevin Klein

Brady Skjei -- Brendan Smith

Nick Holden -- Dan Girardi

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Steven Kampfer, Jimmy Vesey, Brandon Pirri, Tanner Glass, Adam Clendening

Injured: Ryan McDonagh (undisclosed)

 

Status report

Sullivan would not confirm his lines or defense pairs, saying only, "Certainly we've got some ideas on how we're going to utilize the guys that are going in the lineup tonight." … Vesey will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season. He missed one game with an injury (Dec. 8 at Winnipeg Jets).

 

Who's hot

Cullen has four points during a three-game point-scoring streak. … Stepan has scored a goal in three straight games. Zuccarello has five points (one goal, four assists) in a four-game point-scoring streak and 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in his past 13 games. Miller had two goals in a 5-4 overtime loss at the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday after going without a point in his previous four games. Skjei had three assists against the Sharks, giving him six points (two goals, four assists) in his past six games.

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