A few games of chaotic roster situations created some inconsistent performances and dropped the New York Rangers in the standings.
Lately it appears the Rangers are regaining their footing.
New York aims for a third straight win Saturday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time in three days.
New York (39-19-10, 88 points) is 4-0-1 over its past five games following a 2-5-1 skid that ran from Feb. 18 to March 4. The two-week slide occurred as the Rangers played with a short roster for salary cap reasons to eventually acquire Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks on March 1.
The Rangers are 4-2-1 in seven games since Kane joined the team March 2, the latest instance being Thursday’s 4-2 victory. New York never trailed and never played short-handed as Mika Zibanejad and Tyler Motte scored before Chris Kreider netted the tiebreaking goal and an empty-net tally in the third period.
“We’re playing the right way now and then that skill comes out,” New York defenseman Adam Fox said. “You need a little time to click with new guys and I think we’ve done a good job of that the last few games.”
It was the second straight game the Rangers never trailed after allowing opponents to score first in 10 of their previous 13 games.
New York’s ability to start clicking again sends them into Saturday with a 10-point lead on the Penguins (34-24-10, 78 points). The Rangers are seven points behind the New Jersey Devils in a bid to finish second place in the Metropolitan Division and earn home-ice in the opening round.
“The division is tight,” Kreider said. “Playoff race is tight. It’s a big win, big division win, a four-point game.”
Pittsburgh shares the same point total as the New York Islanders, who are playing in San Jose later Saturday. The Penguins have one fewer win but have two games in hand with the Islanders, against whom they are 0-3-1.
Besides trying to stay ahead of the Islanders, the Penguins are attempting to fend off the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals in the wild-card race. Florida is three points back with 14 games left and scored nine goals Thursday.
Pittsburgh won four straight Feb. 25 to March 2 but is a middling 3-3-1 over its past seven games and has allowed 10 goals in the past two games following last weekend’s two wins over the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
After allowing four goals in the opening period of a 6-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Penguins got better goaltending from Tristan Jarry but struggled in containing New York’s frequent odd-man rushes.
“I thought as a team we had our moments,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I didn’t think we brought a level of urgency that we needed to early in the game. I thought we gave up a few too many odd-man rushes, which just boils down to details. And so I just think we need to bring more urgency.”
The moments Sullivan referenced included tying goals by Richard Rakell and Jake Guentzel. Both goals were set up by Sidney Crosby, who has two goals and eight assists in a modest six-game points streak.
“We feel like the last five, six games have been like this, but we’ve just got to find a way because it’s the time of year,” Rakell said. “You’ve got to find a way to win these games.”