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Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Can Rangers rise up against Penguins?

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will head to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ status as one of the NHL’s powerhouses is secure despite some disappointing showings in the playoffs. At times in recent years, it looked like the New York Rangers could reach that level too. They certainly haven’t haven’t excelled this season though.

There are reasons to believe the worst is behind them, even if the Rangers certainly aren’t firing on all cylinders yet. For one thing, their nine-game road trip to open the season is a thing of the past. That’s great news for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was roughed up early in the campaign, but has a 1.27 GAA and .954 save percentage in four home starts.

Related: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Wednesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:30pm ET. Here’s the link.

On top of that, captain Ryan Callahan has returned from a thumb injury to bring the team close to full strength, at least when it comes to the number of regulars that are healthy enough to play. It’s hard to ignore the gaping hole that Rick Nash has left as he recovers from a concussion.

In fact, offense is still the key concern in New York. The Rangers have averaged just 1.86 goals per game and have only been slightly better lately with 11 goals in their last five games. That’s a problem the Penguins don’t have.

Even with James Neal being limited to just one game this season due to an upper-body injury, Pittsburgh has found the back of the net 3.13 times per match. Sidney Crosby currently leads the NHL with 23 points in 15 games and he’s one of three Penguins’ players with at least seven goals.

Not that their offense is the only thing the Penguins have going for them. Although he will ultimately be judged on his next playoff performance, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury has bounced from his rough 2013 postseason to become one of the league’s top goaltenders in the early portion of the season.

The Penguins are running away with the Metropolitan Division title so far with their 11-4-0 record. That’s 10 points better than the Rangers.

New York has gone from sinking to barely treading water, but they have the tools in place to do much more. The question is if they can give their fans a sign tonight that they have the potential to compete on the same level as the Penguins.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.