NEW YORK -- If the Pittsburgh Penguins open the Stanley Cup Playoffs on home ice, their win against the New York Rangers on Sunday night will play a big role.
Center Sidney Crosby scored with 29.5 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory at Madison Square Garden that pulled them to within three points of second place in the Metropolitan Division with seven games remaining.
If the Penguins and Rangers meet in the postseason for the third straight year, home-ice advantage may not matter anyway; the Rangers have won four straight playoff games and five of six at the home of the Penguins, Consol Energy Center, the past two years.
Either way, it doesn't appear to matter too much to Crosby.
"I don't think we're looking at it as closely as that," Crosby said. "We're just trying to play well (at Madison Square Garden). We've been fighting for a long time to get in the playoffs so I think we still have that mentality. We're just going a game at a time. We're just trying to keep playing well."
The Penguins (42-25-8) have won eight of nine overall and seven of eight since losing Evgeni Malkin to an upper-body injury two weeks ago. Malkin is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks, which includes at least the first round of the postseason barring a speedy recovery.
With Malkin out, center Nick Bonino has taken his spot on a line between left winger Carl Hagelin and right winger Phil Kessel, and that trio was responsible for the tying goal midway through the second period.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist flubbed a pass behind his net, which allowed Hagelin to gather the puck in the corner. He fired a shot toward the net, forcing Lundqvist to make an awkward save as he scrambled back into the net. Kessel was there to roof the rebound over a fallen Lundqvist to even the score at 2.
With both teams coming off road wins Saturday, the game stagnated over the final 30 minutes. There was very little space on the ice but once the game turned to 3-on-3 late in overtime -- there was 1:59 of 4-on-3 for the Penguins and extended 4-on-4 before a whistle in the final minute -- Crosby's hand-eye coordination and defenseman Kris Letang's perfect shot gave the Penguins a much-needed extra point.
"It was a hard game to play," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We had to fight for every inch of ice out there Those types of games, where you have to fight to get your offense, you don't get any freebies. I thought our guys played really hard and stayed with it."
Letang was on the ice for the first 3:30 of overtime, then returned for the winning goal after the Penguins called timeout to get him a rest.
"I was looking at the clock," said Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 25 saves. "I'm sure he felt that one."
The Rangers (43-24-9) let a pair of one-goal leads slip away; left winger Eric Staal scored in the first period, only to have that countered by Penguins center Matt Cullen later in the period, then scored again early in the second period before Kessel erased that lead.
The Rangers had their three-game winning streak and snapped and have lost to the Penguins three straight times.
"I feel good about the way we played," said Lundqvist, who turned aside 29 shots. "It was a good game and there's a big possibility that this is the team we are going to face very soon. It's a pretty tight matchup, but we'll see what's going to happen moving forward here. We still have some big games left."
"We're not thinking that far ahead," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Our focus is trying to get points here."
Home ice has mattered in the regular season, as the Rangers' 25-8-4 mark at MSG is the second-best home record in the league while their 18-16-5 record away from here has them in the middle of the pack.
Some players may not want to admit they are looking at the standings with two weeks to go but the location of a potential Game 7 could be the difference in a potential Penguins-Rangers series.
"It's big for the standings," Fleury said. "You definitely need those points. They've had our number in the playoffs the past few seasons."
NOTES: Penguins LW Chris Kunitz was a game-time decision due to an upper-body injury he sustained Saturday, but he was in the starting lineup. ... Penguins D Olli Maatta (lower body) missed his second consecutive game and is listed as week-to-week. .... Rangers LW Oscar Lindberg was a healthy scratch for an eighth consecutive game. ... Rangers D Dylan McIlrath (knee) missed his 10th game in a row. Coach Alain Vigneault said he hopes to have McIlrath back before next weekend, but there is no guarantee the defenseman will be in the lineup when healthy.