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Rested Penguins ready for Rangers in second round

by John Kreiser

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won all four Stanley Cup Playoff series they've played against the New York Rangers. They'll try to make it 5-for-5 when the teams meet in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

The series begins Friday night at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Penguins have had a few days to rest after finishing off the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday to win their first-round series in six games, though they blew multiple-goal leads in each loss and nearly saw a 4-0 lead completely vanish in Game 6. The Rangers played Games 6 and 7 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on back-to-back nights; they advanced by outlasting the Flyers 2-1 at home Wednesday, one night after a 5-2 road loss. Games 2 and 3 are scheduled for Sunday and Monday nights, meaning that the Rangers will play five times in a stretch of seven nights.

The Penguins beat the Rangers in the postseason in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2008, winning 16 of 20 games. But the teams were about as even as possible during their four games this season; each won once (decisively) in regulation at home and once in a shootout on the road. The Rangers outscored the Penguins 14-13 (13-12 in non-shootout goals).

Pittsburgh cruised to the Metropolitan Division title, finishing with 108 points. The Rangers had to overcome a poor start, partly fueled by a season-opening nine-game road trip, but ended up with 96 points and edged the Flyers for second in the division, earning the home-ice edge that proved to be vital in Game 7.

The Rangers were third in the NHL in penalty-killing during the regular season, but the Penguins' League-leading power play scored five times on 14 attempts (35.7 percent) in the four regular-season games. New York's 15th-ranked power play was 3-for-16 (18.7 percent) against Pittsburgh, which was fifth on the penalty kill.

Each team had problems on special teams during the first round. The Rangers surrendered six power-play goals on 21 chances against Philadelphia and failed to connect on their final 21 chances in a 3-for-29 power-play showing. Pittsburgh went 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) on the power play but surrendered three shorthanded goals; the penalty-killers gave up seven goals in 27 man-down situations against Columbus, though they did score twice while shorthanded.

Not surprisingly, NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby was the Penguins' co-high scorer against the Rangers during the regular season with six points (five assists), the same as linemate Chris Kunitz (three goals). Crosby has had success against New York during his career; he has 21 goals and 65 points in 47 regular-season games.

Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers in scoring against the Penguins during the regular season with six points (two goals).

Crosby's six points (all assists) in the first round would have tied him for the lead on the Rangers with Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, each of whom had two goals and four assists. On the Penguins, however, he finished fourth. Defensemen Matt Niskanen (two goals, six assists) and Paul Martin (eight assists) were tops with eight points. Evgeni Malkin led all Pittsburgh forwards with seven points; he scored all three of his goals in Game 6.

Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury and New York's Henrik Lundqvist will be matched up in goal, just as they were in all four regular-season games. Each went 2-1-1; Fleury's career record against the Rangers (26-14-8) is slightly better than Lundqvist's against Pittsburgh (25-19-7).

Fleury also started and completed a victorious first-round series for the first time since 2010, one year after he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Although Fleury has a 49-36 career record in the playoffs, compared with Lundqvist's 34-40 mark, Lundqvist's 2.27 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in the postseason are far better than Fleury's 2.73 and .903.

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