The focus on playoff races may seem exclusive to the NFL at this point, but they also have already hit the NHL. It’s only December, but the Metropolitan Division race already promises to be a thriller, as the top six teams are separated by only five points.
The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins will look to make some headway in that race, as the teams square off at PPG Paints Arena (7:30 PM, MSG/NBCSN).
The Rangers (14-10-2) recently wrapped up a 3-1-0 homestand, which concluded with a 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. Michael Grabner tallied a hat trick, with two of those goals sealing the game when he buried them into an empty net. Grabner’s first gave the Rangers the lead for good in the second period, scoring off a nice pass from Kevin Shattenkirk.
Kevin Shattenkirk, WHAT A DISH to Michael Grabner who taps it home, Rangers lead! pic.twitter.com/Y3EKbrw9DT
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 2, 2017
Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves in tallying his 418th career win, tying Chicago Blackhawks legend Tony Esposito for second most all-time with one team.
Meanwhile, the Penguins (15-10-3) have won four in a row, most recently sweeping a home-and-home set with the Buffalo Sabres. Pittsburgh won the most recent matchup on Saturday by a 5-1 final at home. Ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin tallied his second goal of the season in the second period, while Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist each.
OOOOOH CARL HAGELIN, THIS IS PRETTY! 2-0 PENS! pic.twitter.com/pXQIhUQjyJ
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 3, 2017
This marks the second of four meetings between the Blueshirts and Pens this season, with Pittsburgh taking the first matchup 5-4 in overtime at Madison Square Garden on October 18. The Rangers fell behind 2-0 after the first period, but took a 3-2 lead thanks to second frame goals by David Desharnais, Pavel Buchnevich, and JT Miller. Hornqvist would tie the game before the period let out, but the Rangers retook the lead on a Grabner goal in the third. However, with 56 seconds left, Crosby tied the game up sending it to overtime. Pittsburgh took care of business, scoring on Evgeni Malkin’s winner.
The two teams will meet again on January 14 in an afternoon showdown on January 14 in Pittsburgh.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490