The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division during the regular season will meet in the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals at stake.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers will face off for the fifth time in Stanley Cup Playoff history with Game 1 on Friday from the Steel City.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Rangers improved to 4-0 in Game 7s since 2012 on Wednesday when they eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden. Both New York goals from their second line of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello- a trio which combined for four goals and 10 points in the seven game series.
The Penguins advanced to Round 2 for the second straight year and for the fifth time in the last seven years overall with a 4-2 first round series win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite avoiding a Game 7, the Penguins certainly didn’t make things easy on themselves in Round 1, blowing two-goal leads in each of their defeats and requiring multi-goal comebacks of their own in two of their wins.
CROSBY STILL SCORELESS & NASH: The Penguins averaged 3.5 goals per game in their first round win, but none of their 21 tallies came from captain Sidney Crosby. Crosby, who led Pittsburgh with a team-high 36 goals and 104 points during the regular season, was held to six assists in six games against Columbus. Dating to last year’s postseason, Crosby has been held without a goal in 10 straight playoff games.
Meanwhile, after leading New York with a team-high 26 goals during the regular season, Rick Nash was held to a single goal in the Rangers’ seven-game series against Philadelphia. Since debuting with the Rangers in 2013, Nash has one goal in 19 playoff games.
SECONDARY SCORING: While Crosby was held without a goal in six games against Columbus, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin didn’t find the back of the net until Game 6, when he netted his second career playoff hat-trick.
Among those picking up the offensive slack for Pittsburgh has been versatile center Brandon Sutter, who had three goals and five points in six games. Sutter rotated between the second and third lines in Round 1, and began Game 6 on a line with Jussi Jokinen and James Neal.
With the Rangers’ shutdown pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi likely to see plenty of Crosby’s line (which in Games 5 and 6 included Malkin and Chris Kunitz), the Penguins may be looking to their secondary scorers even more in Round 2.
The Rangers had offensive contributions throughout their lineup in Round 1 with eight players scoring at least two goals each. Former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, lead New York with six points apiece.
THE KING VS. A FLOWER: Marc-Andre Fleury may be Pittsburgh’s all-time wins leader, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into postseason success since the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Fleury entered this year’s postseason with 14-16 playoff record since 2010 with a 3.18 goals-against-average and .880 save percentage over that stretch.
Fleury appeared headed towards another postseason meltdown after a puckhandling gaffe late in Game 4 helped send the game to overtime where the Blue Jackets eventually prevailed. But Fleury responded with back-to-back wins in Games 5 and 6 and finished the series with a 2.81 GAA and .908 SV%.
Henrik Lundqvist was steady as usual in Round 1 and improved to 4-1 lifetime in Game 7s with a 1.00 GAA and .963 SV%. Lundqvist and the Rangers will be looking to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three years.
GORMLEY: PENGUINS IN 7
RABY: PENGUINS IN 6