NHL: Penguins, Rangers preparing for critical Eastern Conference duel

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When last they met … well, that was just Sunday.

Now, the New York Rangers and visiting Pittsburgh Penguins continue what has been built into the schedule as an in-season miniseries Thursday.

Pittsburgh defeated visiting New York 3-2 in overtime on Sunday, with the matchup now headed for midtown Manhattan for games Thursday and Saturday. It’s three games in seven days against each other with plenty at stake.

Sunday’s game was the only blemish in the Rangers’ current 3-0-1 string. They also are 5-2-1 in their past eight as they try to lock down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Penguins are 7-2-1 in their past 10 and hold down a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

What happened in the teams’ outings Tuesday, as they stepped away from each other for one game, has a bearing on the importance of their two-game set in New York.

The Rangers took care of business with a 5-3 win against the Washington Capitals, while the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens 6-4.

That left New York with an eight-game cushion over Pittsburgh, so the points on the line in the upcoming two games could go a long way toward shaping the middle of the Metro standings.

“There’s room to build off of this one,” Rangers winger Patrick Kane said of Tuesday’s win.

Building off that would come at the expense of the Penguins. That would be fine with New York, which despite its record was not content with its performances for a while before Tuesday.

Its three games before Tuesday, which constituted a road trip culminating in Pittsburgh, all went to overtime.

“I think we know how we’re capable of playing, and just getting it all the time, consistently, is what we’re striving for,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said.

“I think we’re getting better.”

The Penguins’ recent record runs counter to the feeling they got Tuesday after falling to the lowly Canadiens. They built a 2-0 lead, fell behind 4-2 and tied it before losing.

“We should have grabbed those points,” Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said. “We didn’t have the same urgency we had against (New York on Sunday).”

Some of the Penguins were fuming.

“Not good enough,” snapped winger Jason Zucker. “We’ve got to figure it out because it’s not good enough.”

Pittsburgh No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry gave up four goals on seven shots in the first against Montreal before being pulled for the third time in eight starts in a season that has been interrupted by injuries.

“He’s fine from a health standpoint,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Jarry. “We’re just trying to get him up to speed here on the fly, and it’s a bit of a challenge.”

What’s not fine from a health standpoint is Pittsburgh’s defense.

Tuesday morning, Sullivan revealed that newly acquired Dmitry Kulikov would be out on a week-to-week basis because of a lower-body injury.

That night, defenseman Jeff Petry did not play in the third period because of an unspecified injury, and Jan Rutta was helped off the ice early in the third after taking a shot to the left knee. There were no updates on either player postgame or Wednesday, when the Penguins canceled practice.

They finished the game with four defensemen and had just one healthy scratch, Chad Ruhwedel.

–Field Level Media

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