Penguins, Rangers set for battle at MSG

The return of Sidney Crosby has helped to vault the Penguins to the top of the NHL standings.

Excellent goaltending this month by Henrik Lundqvist has the Rangers hot on their heels.

Pittsburgh has points in all four games since Crosby returned from a concussion suffered last January and it will look to deny New York a third straight victory tonight at Madison Square Garden.

The Penguins had no problems keeping their head above water as they waited for the return of Crosby. Pittsburgh went 11-6-3 without its captain and shut out the New York Islanders in his return to action on Nov. 21.

Following a shootout loss to the Blues on Nov. 23, the Penguins have recorded back-to-back wins over the Senators and Canadiens. Crosby has points in all three wins, amassing two goals and seven assists. The only game he was held off the scoresheet was the loss to the Blues and the superstar center was named the NHL's First Star of the week on Monday.

Crosby notched two assists in Saturday's 4-3 overtime victory against the Canadiens, including one on Jordan Staal's game-tying goal with 4:30 to play in regulation. However, it was Kris Letang who played the hero, returning from a facial injury suffered late in the third to score the winner.

Letang was hammered by Montreal's Max Pacioretty that left the defenseman bleeding from the nose.

"I didn't see it," Letang said of the hit, which could cause him to miss this evening's game. "I was taking a shot and he was coming across so I didn't see it. But he apologized to me on the ice. He came over during a stoppage in play, we skated around and he apologized. A great gesture by him."

Malkin has also excelled in Crosby's return, notching three goals and five assists over a four-game point streak. Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves in Saturday's win.

Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 32 points, five more than its Atlantic Division rival New York. The Rangers have kept pace by winning six in a row at home and nine of their last 11 games overall, including Saturday's 2-0 blanking of Philadelphia.

Lundqvist earned his second shutout of the season and 37th of his career with 29 saves, moving to 7-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average in November.

"I think we played with a lot of confidence and we made it really tough for them to create chances. They had a couple in the first and in the second, I feel like we really shut them down," Lundqvist said one day after helping backstop New York to a 6-3 win over the Capitals. "We did a really good job and I think we carried over the confidence from last night."

Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin scored for the Rangers, with Hagelin netting his first career goal in his second NHL game.

The 23-year-old Swede netted his first career score in his second NHL contest.

"To be able to do that here, at MSG is pretty amazing," the 23-year-old Swede said. "There's such a great crowd here and they really love their team. They're probably the best fans in the world."

New York upped its home record at Madison Square Garden to 6-1-1, the best start at the arena since going 7-1-1 in 1992-93. The Blueshirts also improved to 11-1 when scoring first this season.

The Rangers went 4-1-1 versus the Penguins a season ago and their 5-3 home victory on Feb. 13 snapped the Penguins' five-game win streak in New York.