2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Rangers vs. Penguins first-round preview

(2M) New York Rangers vs. (3M) Pittsburgh Penguins

Rangers: 52-24-6, 110 points

Penguins: 46-25-11, 103 points

season-series: N.Y.R. 3-1-0; PT 1-3-0

Match 1: Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, SN, TVAS, MSG, ATTSN-PT)

The New York Rangers won three games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a span of less than two weeks from March 25-April 7. They limited Pittsburgh to four goals in four games in their regular-season series.

But what happens through the course of the 82-game season rarely matters once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, so it’s possible the Rangers’ recent success against the Penguins won’t mean a thing when they meet in the Eastern Conference First Round.

That’s at least the message the Rangers are trying to send in advance of Game 1.

“We’re familiar with what they do and what kind of team that is, but now it’s 0-0,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “Everyone starts at zero, so I don’t think [the regular season] makes a huge difference.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he thinks they can take a lot out of the season series even though the last three games didn’t go their way.

“The biggest takeaway is recognizing that they’re a real good hockey team,” Sullivan said. “They’ve got a lot of team speed. Their power play is really dangerous. They’ve got terrific goaltending. They’re a deep team. They’re a good team. It’ll be a big challenge for us.”

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Penguins series coverage]

This will be the eighth time New York and Pittsburgh will play in a playoff series; the first since 2016, when the Penguins needed five games to eliminate the Rangers in the first round, starting their journey to the first of two straight Stanley Cup championships.

left wing Chris Creeder is the only player on the Rangers roster who played in that series.

New York is in the NHL postseason for the first time since 2020, when it was swept 3-0 by the Carolina Hurricanes in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Rangers clinched a playoff berth during the regular season for the first time since 2017.

Only Kreider and Zibanejad remain since the last time the Rangers won a playoff game — May 4, 2017, 4-1 against the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round.

“It’s been a grind, a couple long years, but definitely worth the wait to be back in the playoffs,” Zibanejad said. “Looking at this group that we have, I’m super happy to be a part of that and to be a part of the solution. I’m just really excited to get this going.”

The Rangers won 52 games this season, tied for the second most in team history (1993-94). Their 110 points is the third most in team history.

They became the 10th team in NHL history, and first in 10 years, to have at least 50 wins and 100 points with a 50-goal scorer (Kreider was third in the NHL with 52), a 90-point scorer (Artemi Panarin had 96) and a goalie with at least 36 wins (Igor Shesterkin had 36).

The last team to do it was the Penguins in 2011-12.

“I like our team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’ve got a good mix of young guys that took a step this year big time. I like what we’re going to bring.”

The Penguins are in the playoffs for the 16th straight season, the longest active postseason streak among teams in any of the major professional sports leagues in North America.

The Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer are next with 13 straight postseason appearances. The Washington Capitals are the next closest NHL team, with eight straight.

sidney crosby, Yevgeny Malkin and Kris Letang have been the core that has helped the Penguins keep their playoff streak alive. It’s possible this postseason is the last time they will be all together.

Crosby is signed through 2024-25, but Malkin and Letang are pending unrestricted free agents, meaning their futures with the Penguins are in doubt after the playoffs.

“As much as you don’t want to think about it, it’s something that you understand could be a possibility,” Crosby said. “I think you just try to enjoy it as much as you can and try to take it all in because you know it’s something that’s not going to last forever, whether it’s this year or down the road a little bit more.

“You only get to play for so long, so I think just trying to enjoy it and be grateful for the opportunity that we have to do it again.”

game breakers

Rangers: Kreider scored a single-season career-high 52 goals, topping his previous career high of 28 (2016-17 and 2018-19). The left wing scored 28 goals at home, tied for the most in team history. He scored 26 on the power play, the most in the NHL. He is omnipresent in front and to the side of the net when the Rangers have the puck, particularly on the power play. He has scored most of his goals from him from around the blue paint.

Crosby: The 34-year-old center is still the driving force behind the Penguins success. Crosby tied for the team lead with 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists) in 69 games. It’s the 12th time in his 17 seasons that he’s either led or been tied for the team lead in points. He was named the Penguins most valuable player for the 10th time, second in team history behind Mario Lemieux (12).

Video: CAR@NYR: Kreider records 52nd goal of the season

goaltending

Rangers: Shesterkin is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie this season and he’s been in the national discussion for the Hart Trophy, which is given to the NHL most valuable player. Shesterkin leads the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, going 36-13-4 with six shutouts in 53 games (52 starts). He was voted as the Rangers most valuable player by the media that covers the team on a daily basis. Alexandra Georgiev is the backup. He went 15-10-2 with a 2.92 GAA and .898 save percentage in 33 games.

Penguins: Casey DeSmith is expected to be the Game 1 starter with tristan jarry still out with a lower-body injury. Jarry was the Penguins No. 1 goalie all season until he sustained his injury during a 6-3 win against the New York Islanders on April 14. He was 34-18-6 with a 2.42 GAA and .919 save percentage and four shutouts in 58 games (56 starts). But DeSmith started five of Pittsburgh’s last six regular season games, going 3-2-0 with a 2.24 GAA and .940 save percentage. He was 11-6-5 with a 2.79 GAA and .914 save percentage and three shutouts in 26 games (24 starts) this season. louis domingue is expected to be DeSmith’s backup for the start of the series.

Video: PIT@NYR: Shesterkin blanks Penguins in 3-0 win

numbers to know

Rangers: The Rangers finished fourth in the NHL on the power play at 25.2 percent. They were second in the NHL with 27 comeback wins (the Florida Panthers had 29), the most in team history. New York had four players with at least 70 points for the first time since 1993-94 and fourth time in team history (Panarin, 96 points; Zibanejad, 81; Kreider, 77; Adam Fox74).

Penguins: The Penguins finished with 103 points, the 11th time they’ve reached at least the century mark in the past 16 seasons. Letang had 68 points, a new NHL single-season career high for the defenseman. His 58 assists are also an NHL career high.

X factors

Rangers: Andrew Copp has been one of their most versatile skaters since they acquired him from the Winnipeg Jets on March 21. Copp found a home on the second line with center Ryan Strom and Panarin, the left wing, bringing his scoring touch, defensive instincts and ability to win face-offs on his strong side (left). He has been a regular on the second power-play unit and on the penalty kill. He had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 16 games, but Copp missed three of the last four games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. He is expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.

Penguins: Rickard Rakell was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on March 21 to help fill out their secondary scoring depth and properly slot other forwards in the lineup. The forward has delivered, with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 19 games since the trade. Rakell has played well with Crosby and Jake Guentzel. He has also played with Malkin. He gives the Penguins another option to play with Crosby if they wanted to move right wing Bryan Rust to a line with Malkin. His presence of him has also allowed Pittsburgh to use forwards Brock McGinn, Evan Rodrigues and danton heinen in bottom six roles.

Video: PIT@MIN: Rakell nets his 2nd of game on rush

they said it

“You know Pittsburgh. You know Crosby. You know Malkin. You know Letang, all those players. But that doesn’t worry us. They’re good players, we know what they’re going to bring. It’s about what we’ re going to bring. We’ve done it all season. We’re ready for this series.” — Rangers coach Gerard Gallant

“I think [the Rangers’] transition game is a real factor. They want to be aggressive off the rush, have four or five guys involved, so I think, for us, it’s the way we play when we play our best.
We defend hard. We get our chances. We have world-class players up there that can capitalize on those too, so it’s going to be a good matchup. It got a little heated at the end of the last game, so we look forward to it, for sure.” –Penguin defenseman Marcus Pettersson

Will win if…

Rangers: Shesterkin is the key. If he’s on his game the way he has been throughout this season he gives the Rangers a chance to win four out of seven games against any team in the NHL. New York will need its power play to be as dangerous as it has been in the regular season, but most importantly the Rangers need their 5-on-5 play to be as strong as it was down the stretch in the regular season. They limited shots on goal against per game to 26.3 in their 19 games after the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline (March 21); they were allowing 32.2 per game prior to the deadline.

Penguins: DeSmith has to be solid and the Penguins must be stout in front of him, insulating the goalie enough so he can give them a chance against a high-octane offense. Like the Rangers, the Penguins will need their power play to make a difference. It hasn’t in the past month. But more importantly they need their penalty kill to outwork the Rangers power play. Discipline will also be key because the more the Penguins are on the PK, the less they have Crosby and Malkin on the ice.

How They Look

Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Frank Vatran

Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Andrew Copp

Alexis Lafreniere — Filip ChytilKaapo Kako

Dryden HuntKevin RooneyBarclay Goodrow

Ryan Lindgren –Adam Fox

K’Andre MillerJacob Trouba

Patrick NemethBraden Schneider

Igor Shesterkin

Alexandra Georgiev

Scratched: Libor Hajek, Justin Brown, Jonny Brodzinski, Julien Gauthier, Greg McKeg, Ryan Reeves

Injured: Tyler Motte (upper body)

Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Bryan Rust

Danton Heinen – Evgeni Malkin – Rickard Rakell

Brock McGinn — Jeff CarterKasperi Kapanen

brian boyleteddy blueger –Evan Rodrigues

Brian Dumoulin –Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson — John Marino

Mike MathesonChad Ruhwedel

Casey DeSmith

louis domingue

Scratched: Mark Friedman

Injured: Tristan Jarry (lower body, Nathan Beaulieu (lower body), Jason Zucker (lower body)

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