Penguins, struggling Rangers going opposite ways
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin tries to get a shot on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Darroll Powe and the Rangers have lost three of their past four games to fall to ninth in the conference with 28 points.
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The last time the New York Rangers played at Consol Energy Center, they were about to head into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and not very happy with a 5-2 loss against the Penguins.
That was April 5, 2012.
Today, the Rangers visit for an afternoon game looking up -- even if slightly -- at the playoff cutoff in the East.
The Rangers have lost three of their past four games to fall to ninth in the conference with 28 points.
The Penguins, meanwhile, have won seven games in a row and match Montreal with 40 points apiece at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
"Given the situation -- we've had success, and they're a desperate hockey team -- we've got to make sure that we match their desperation somehow," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said Friday after the Penguins practiced at Consol Energy Center. "This time of year, everybody needs the points."
The Penguins have been stockpiling those but don't want to fall into a rut like the one the Rangers are in. New York's 1-3 stretch nearly has negated a four-game winning streak that immediately preceded it.
Matchup: Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun for Penguins; Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
Penguins: Are 7-4-0 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Their 127 takeaways among least in NHL. ... Chris Kunitz has 12 goals, 20 points over past 11 games.
Bruins: Are 4-4-1 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Among the least-penalized teams with 10.8 minutes a game. ... Were second in league with 794 hits before games Friday night.
Hidden stat: The Penguins have had a three-goal period in each game of their seven-game winning streak.
"Anytime we play the Rangers, it's going to be a tough game, especially with what they're going through," Penguins winger James Neal said. "They're going to be a desperate team coming in.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now, and that's good. We'll play them just like we always do."
Rangers coach John Tortorella was calm and upbeat after his team's practice Friday at Consol Energy Center, a couple of hours after the Penguins got off the ice.
"I'm not down on the team," Tortorella said. "The worst thing we can do right now, when you lose a couple of games, is start panicking and say, 'What's going on with this club?'
"The most important thing is our mindset. We can't talk ourselves into more of a mess."
That's a far different tone than some associate with the sometimes fiery Tortorella.
After the loss last April at Consol Energy Center, Tortorella took aim at the Penguins and was fined $20,000 by the NHL for his comments.
Among other things, Tortorella called a kneeing penalty taken by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik for a hit on New York's Derek Stepan "a cheap, dirty hit. I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. Just no respect amongst players. None."
He called the Penguins "one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look at what happens. ... It's ridiculous. But they'll whine about something else over there, won't they? Starting with their two [expletive] stars."
Tortorella's star references presumably were to Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin.
Fast forward to this week. After a 3-1 loss Tuesday at Buffalo, Tortorella tore into his club.
"I don't think the Sabres were the hungrier team. I thought we stunk, and I'm not going to give Buffalo any credit," he fumed. "I will give their third line credit -- they outplayed our top players, and that can't happen.
"I couldn't be more disgusted and disappointed with the way our top guys played, the way we handled ourselves through it. That team was ripe to be beaten, and we simply did not play the way we were supposed to."
He was calmer after the Rangers' 3-1 loss Thursday at Winnipeg and again Friday after practice.
Tortorella pointed to missed opportunities on offense and a need to be tougher defensively in front of the net. "Hopefully, we'll get a couple of lucky bounces to bring some confidence to our guys offensively because I don't think we're far off," he said.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma -- whose team beat the Rangers twice in January by a combined 9-3, both at Madison Square Garden -- is wearing blinders as far as New York's recent play.
"You don't get a sense of where a team is at and [how] it's playing when you haven't seen it in a while," he said. "They're a team that we feel is a very good team, a team that is expected to be on top. That's what we feel like we're playing coming into [today].
"Wherever their record is at, their season is at, we're not with them. It's a very good team, a rival team, and it's going to feel like that coming in. They have an opportunity to get back to where they need to be and where they need to go. We're expecting this to be a rivalry-type game."
First Published March 16, 2013 12:00 am