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Pre-Olympic finale for Penguins, Rangers

by Mike Battaglino

RANGERS (31-24-3) at PENGUINS (40-15-2)


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

Season series: The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins play for the final time. Pittsburgh has won the past two games, once in a shootout, after losing the first 5-1 at Madison Square Garden.

Big story: The Penguins announced Friday defenseman Kris Letang suffered a stroke last week, from which he is recovering. The stroke is not believed to be career- or life-threatening; however, Letang will miss at least six weeks, after which he'll be reevaluated.

New York has ascended to second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 15-6-1 stretch but trails first-place Pittsburgh by 17 points. The Rangers have not won in Pittsburgh since Jan. 6, 2012, but are 5-4-1 in their past 10 games there. The Penguins are an NHL-best 23-4-0 at home this season.

"The Rangers have been playing strong recently, been scoring a lot, [Henrik] Lundqvist has been standing on his head a few times, and it's a divisional rivalry," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said after an optional practice Thursday. "So I think that there'll be more than enough motivation for us to play."

Team Scope:

Rangers: New York's season-high four-game winning streak ended Thursday with a 2-1 home loss to the 29th-place Edmonton Oilers. But the Rangers are 10-4-0 in their past 14 games.

"We've played pretty good as of late," forward Brad Richards said. "I think we could've done a little more (Thursday). We'll try to regroup; we've just got to wake up tomorrow and get back to work."

Goalie Cam Talbot played Thursday, so Henrik Lundqvist will start. Lundqvist is 11-3-2 since Dec. 29, has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of his past 11 games, and has a 1.50 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in a four-game win streak.

This is the final game for New York before the Olympic break, with seven players set to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"Tomorrow we're playing against the best in our conference," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're going to have to be real good. … We've got one more game to play here, and I'm hoping that everybody's going to be ready to play this last game here."

Penguins: Pittsburgh, with a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, reached 40 wins faster than any team in franchise history (57 games). The 1995-96 Penguins reached 40 wins in 65 games.

"I think we're aware of that stuff when everyone brings it up, but hopefully we're thinking much more further ahead here," captain Sidney Crosby said Thursday, according to The Sports Xchange. "We've had some really good regular seasons in the past, I think everyone's well aware of that. So I think at this point we're making sure that we play the right way ... but the regular season is the regular season. We're trying to prepare for something bigger, hopefully."

This is the final game for Pittsburgh before the Olympic break. The Penguins will have seven players in Russia, while others will deal with the time off.

"There's no way you can keep your conditioning at the level that it's going to be right now and tomorrow," Scuderi said. "Except for the guys that are playing in the Olympics, the rest of us are going to lose a good portion of it. But we have plenty of practices to get back to where we are once the break is over. And everyone's even; it's not as if we have five less practices than everyone else. Everyone's going to have the same amount of time off and the same amount of time to practice before we play again, so there's no excuses."

Pittsburgh has won four of its past five games, allowing three goals total in the four victories.

Who's hot: Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello has seven points in a career-high five-game streak. Forward Derick Brassard also has seven points in his five-game streak. … Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin (two goals, four assists) and James Neal (two goals, two assists) each has a four-game point streak. Forward Brian Gibbons has a goal in back-to-back games.

Injury report: Rangers forward Derek Dorsett (broken fibula) is out. … Penguins forward Taylor Pyatt (lower body) did not play Wednesday. Forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Chris Conner (hand) and Joe Vitale (wrist) are on injured reserve. Forward Pascal Dupuis (knee) will have surgery Feb. 12, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

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