It’s difficult to talk about the New York Rangers without bringing up goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
That’s what center Evgeni Malkin did Thursday when the topic turned to the Penguins’ opponent in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s my favorite goalie,” Malkin said.
Peduto, Fitzgerald lead cheers at Penguins rally
Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald were among those leading the cheers at a rally for the Penguins today. The Pens take on the New York Rangers on Saturday in round 2 of the NHL playoffs. (Video by Lake Fong; 5/2/2014)
That immediately called for some clarification. Does Malkin like shooting on Lundqvist or just watching him?
“My favorite goalie to watch,” Malkin said, laughing.
Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy winner two years ago and a finalist last year, surely is among the Rangers who will figure prominently in the series that opens tonight at Consol Energy Center.
“I like him a lot,” Malkin said. “But he can’t stop every shot. We can screen him, go to the net, wait him out maybe sometimes.”
The Rangers traveled to Pittsburgh but did not practice Thursday after playing the previous two nights to wrap up a first-round series against Philadelphia. The Penguins had the luxury of practicing and game-planning for New York.
“We need to use speed, a good forecheck, and we have a great chance to win,” Malkin said.
The Penguins appear to be close to full health. Forwards Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale, who left the team’s series-clinching Game 6 win Monday against Columbus because of injuries, practiced for a second day in a row. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, however, remains out because of an unspecified injury.
Coach Dan Bylsma went back to his conventional line combinations at practice with Sidney Crosby and Malkin centering the top two lines. Those two played on the same line for much of Games 5 and 6 against Columbus, and it’s possible that Bylsma will go with that look, at least at times, against the Rangers.
One or both of those top centers can expect to see a lot of New York defensive partners Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with some Marc Staal sprinkled in.
“You’re looking at those three guys doing the bulk of the matching up,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins went 2-1-1 against the Rangers in the regular season, but they haven’t faced them since before the Olympic break. That means they haven’t faced winger Martin St. Louis in Rangers blue.
New York traded its former captain, Ryan Callahan, to Tampa Bay for St. Louis in early March.
“In our games against them, they haven’t been what I think they are right now. You watch them recently, you’re looking at four lines, good lines,” said Bylsma, adding that St. Louis gives New York added “star power.”
St. Louis has 47 points in 50 career games against the Penguins. He had just one goal, eight points in the 19 regular-season games after the trade, but he had two goals, six points in the seven-game series against the Flyers.
“He’s been getting better and better since joining the Rangers,” Penguins defensemen Paul Martin said. “He’s always been one of the better players in the league as far as making plays and finding open guys. That works well for a guy like [Rick] Nash if you can find him in different areas of the ice.”
Nash, a power forward with more than 300 goals and 600 points in the NHL, was held without a goal in seven games against Philadelphia and has scored just twice in 23 career playoff games.
“We don’t want Nash to start scoring goals,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Nash lately is the Rangers’ equivalent of Crosby, who has gone 11 playoff games in a row without a goal, dating to last year.
“Sometimes, it takes one or two things to get them rolling,” Martin said. “I think it’s only a matter of time before Sid starts going. Hopefully, it’s this series.
“A player like Nash, you’ve just got to try to contain him.”
Penguins-Rangers doesn’t, on the surface, seem to have the same vibe as Penguins-Flyers would have had Philadelphia gotten past the Rangers in the first round. The Flyers are arch-rivals of the Penguins. Games and playoff series between Philadelphia and the Penguins often have turned nasty and penalty-marred.
“There’s every bit of a rivalry for our team” and the Rangers, Bylsma said.
“I still think this has got, for us, the same feel. Playoff hockey. It’s going to be tough. We don’t have the same clash, maybe, physically or emotionally, but I think it’s very similar to the other series we’ll be in.”
A common Penguins theme against the Flyers is maintaining composure. That’s still a good idea against the Rangers, Letang said.
“I’m pretty sure the intensity will get really high,” he said. “The emotions are always going to be part of the game. We have to control them the best we can. It’s a pretty good matchup, and a pretty good rivalry, too.”
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.