With two games left in the regular season, the New York Rangers theoretically may have nothing to play for after accomplishing their preseason goal of earning home-ice advantage in the playoffs. But it's no time to fall into any bad habits, and that's the most important thing as they visit the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:00 p.m. (NBCSN/MSG).
Several weeks ago it appeared that the Penguins would never lose and many considered them the best team in the Eastern Conference, despite still trailing the Rangers. Ever since, they've been beatable and as a result are essentially playing for home ice in the first round of the playoffs over their next two games. The Pens' magic number to clinch the No. 4 seed is two -- and they are likely to play the Philadelphia Flyers, but there's still a slim chance the New Jersey Devils slip into the fifth seed.
The Rangers will likely be without Henrik Lundqvist, who took a shot in the hand (on the arong side of the blocker against the Flyers in the last game. But this is probably the best time to give him some extended rest and keep Martin Biron fresh for the postseason.
New York is 2-3 versus Pittsburgh, losing three straight to it. The Blueshirts know what to expect: extreme skill up front led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, puck-moving defensemen and a talented goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens have three wins in their last seven games, mostly because they've allowed so many goalies with some shoddy goaltending and back-end play.
This has the makings of potentially being an eventual preview of a playoff matchup, and if one thing is certain, John Tortorella's Rangers won't be letting their foot off the gas pedal. Now is the time teams want to be playing their best hockey, and New York has spoken about constantly improving and ironing out the kinks. They are 5-1 over their last six games and 7-2 over their last nine, led by veterans Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, an awakening Brian Boyle and other-worldy play by Lundqvist.