PITTSBURGH -- Despite a schedule that has the New York Rangers playing six games in nine days, they do not think they are at a disadvantage entering Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers will play their third game in four days Friday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Pittsburgh has had three days to rest and practice since their last game, but New York doesn't think that will affect the series' outcome.
"You can't look at the big picture," Rangers forward Martin St. Louis said. "You just have to focus on the game, and then once that game's over, regroup and focus on Game 2. You can't focus on six in nine. They're in the same boat that we are, so we aren't going to overthink it. Just get ready for the next game."
The Rangers are aware of the challenge the Penguins present.
New York is expected to match its top defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi against Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby's line. The Penguins were willing to mix lines in the final two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, with center Evgeni Malkin moving to right wing alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
McDonagh said expects Pittsburgh's two primary stars will be a challenge regardless of their line configuration.
"You look at it both ways," McDonagh said. "They have two lethal lines when they're spread out, but when they're together, it's pretty incredible the plays they can make. So whatever happens, we have to approach it with the mindset of making sure we know where they're at and try to do our best."
With the way Rangers defensemen Anton Stralman and Marc Staal have played recently, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he doesn't believe he's restricted to matching a certain pairing against Crosby and Malkin.
"[Staal and Stralman] have done that throughout our season," Vigneault said. "Anytime you've got guys who can defend like Ryan or Marc on the left side, or Dan or [Stralman], I'm very comfortable having either pair on the ice against the other team's top line."
The Penguins have been equally complimentary of the Rangers star players, particularly goalie Henrik Lundqvist. After being pulled from New York's Game 6 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Lundqvist carried the Rangers into the second round with a 26-save performance in Game 7.
Even with his demanding playing schedule, Lundqvist isn't anticipating a drop in performance.
"I don't think about the big stretch. I just think about getting ready for the first period," Lundqvist said. "I don't want to go bigger than that. I don't need to and I shouldn't go there. I think we all know it's going to be a lot of work, but you're so excited to be out there playing that you're not going to be tired.
"We're going to be excited to be out there playing and try to get the job done."
Although they do not think they are at a disadvantage, the Rangers also realize how valuable a win would be in Game 1. Forward Brad Richards said getting off to a strong start would make the schedule more manageable.
"Three games are going to come pretty quick. We know that," Richards said. "We really can't worry about it, besides tonight. We had a day off yesterday and flew here after an emotional game, so it's all just been preparing for this game."
Here are the projected lineups:
Rick Nash – Derek Stepan – Martin St. Louis
Benoit Pouliot – Derick Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin – Brad Richards – Daniel Carcillo
Brian Boyle – Dominic Moore – Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore – Kevin Klein
Scratched: Jesper Fast, Ryan Haggerty, J.T. Miller, Raphael Diaz, Justin Falk
Injured: Chris Kreider (hand)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Lee Stempniak
Jussi Jokinen – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Beau Bennett – Brandon Sutter – Joe Vitale
Tanner Glass – Marcel Goc – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen
Rob Scuderi – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Jayson Megna, Taylor Pyatt, Deryk Engelland, Chris Conner
Injured: Brooks Orpik (undisclosed), Brian Gibbons (undisclosed), Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Tomas Vokoun (pelvis)