PITTSBURGH – How fitting that the Rangers’ first meeting with the Penguins this season is now.
After reeling off seven straight wins, the Rangers will take to the ice at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night, looking to continue their latest turnaround after a mostly lackluster start to their campaign. It was seven months ago that they had to pull off the same dramatic turnaround in the first round of the playoffs against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, who faced elimination from the Blue Jackets and the prospect of a hugely disappointing postseason run after just four games. .
The Rangers then pulled it off, changing history and winning three straight to advance. Can they do it now?
There has been enough of this recent success to say the Rangers can. Not only have they defeated venerable opponents like the Golden Knights, Avalanche, Devils and Maple Leafs, albeit depleted versions of some of them, but the Rangers have gone 33-14 through seven games.
The hope is that they get over the rough road early. Still, the Rangers seem to have grown out of it. Just like when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh in their first legitimate playoff game in four seasons, the Rangers learned how quickly circumstances can change in the NHL.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Rangers are 3rd in the Metropolitan Division with 41 points. The Devils have cooled off after losing five straight, including last week’s overtime loss to the Rangers at the Garden. As a result, the Hurricanes have caught up and are now tied with New Jersey with 44 points. Those teams will square off in Carolina on Tuesday, while the Rangers will take on the fourth-ranked Penguins in the third-seed battle.
It may be the first time the Rangers and Penguins have met since that thrilling seven-game stretch, but the important thing is that this game has playoff implications for this season.
“Turn the page pretty quickly,” Jacob Trouba said after the Rangers scored seven goals on the Blackhawks and after the senior posted a perfectly timed tweet past Chicago forward Andreas Athanasiou. “It’s no different than if you lose a game like this. You have to turn the page and go to the next one. We have another big test in two days and we want to finish this trip right.”
Pittsburgh was just enjoying its own seven-game stretch that included key wins over the Central Division-leading Stars and the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights. The streak, however, was sandwiched between losses for the Hurricanes, who beat the Penguins on Sunday behind two third-period goals.
The Rangers next three games will all be against division foes, as will the Penguins. Aside from the bottom-feeding Blue Jackets and Flyers, just one to three points separate the top six teams in the Metropolitan division.
Bloodbath is the word that comes to mind when analyzing the metro and Rangers have found themselves in the thick of it again.