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Rangers Return Home to Take on the Penguins

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

The Rangers begin their final five games of the regular season Friday night with a matchup against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

New York went 1-1-1 on their three-game trip through California, including Thursday night's 5-4 overtime loss against the San Jose Sharks that saw the Rangers clinch their seventh straight playoff berth.

J.T. Miller scored twice and Brady Skjei had a three-assist night, while Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves in taking the overtime defeat.

Lundqvist will be in net Friday against Pittsburgh, and on Thursday coach Alain Vigneault said he'd play all but one of the remaining five games, with the lone night off coming in either of the back-to-back set next weekend in Ottawa or home against these same Penguins.

While Vigneault did not fully commit to his practice lines, it does appear that Jimmy Vesey will be a healthy scratch, with Pavel Buchnevich returning after a one-game scratching in San Jose. Buchnevich skated at left wing on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash, while Vesey skated with Brandon Pirri and Tanner Glass.

Matt Puempel remained in the lineup and was on the fourth line with J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg. The Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes units were untouched 

Ryan McDonagh was given a maintenance day but Vigneault said it's "looking good" that he will play Friday's game.

Friday's contest marks the first of two meetings at The Garden in nine days between the Rangers and the Penguins. The two teams have met three times this season with the Penguins winning two. Nash and Michael Grabner each have two goals and three points through the first three games of the season series.

Pittsburgh is on a four-game losing streak (0-2-2), including a 5-1 loss to Chicago at home on Wednesday night. The Penguins are 4-3-3 in their last 10, and currently sit two points behind Columbus for second in the Metropolitan Division.

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug as of late, with the team's official website reporting there are currently eight players out of the lineup, including stars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, as well as Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and former Ranger Carl Hagelin.

Sidney Crosby is having an MVP-like season with 42 goals and 82 points in 70 games, which is third in the NHL behind Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane.

Goaltender Matt Murray is expected to get the start in goal for the Penguins after Marc-Andre Fleury started against Chicago Wednesday evening. Murray is having a great sophomore season at 28-10-4 with a .923 SV%.

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