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Penguins offer measuring stick for Rangers’ season turnaround

PITTSBURGH — How fitting it is that the Rangers’ first matchup with the Penguins this season is happening now. 

After stringing seven wins in a row, the Rangers will take the ice Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena looking to continue their recent U-turn after a largely underwhelming start to their campaign. It was just over seven months ago that they had to finesse the same dramatic turnaround in the first round of the playoffs against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, who had the Blueshirts’ facing elimination and the prospect of an immensely disappointing postseason showing after just four games. 

The Rangers pulled it off then, reversing the narrative and winning three straight to advance. Can they do it now? 

There’s been enough in this recent surge of success that says the Rangers can. Not only have they defeated respectable opponents like the Golden Knights, Avalanche, Devils and Maple Leafs — albeit depleted versions of some of them — but the Rangers have held a 33-14 edge in scoring over the seven-game span. 

The hope is that they’ve gotten the tough stretch out of the way early. Still, the Rangers have seemingly grown from it. Just like when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh in their first legitimate playoff appearance in four seasons, the Rangers have learned how quickly circumstances can change in the NHL. 

New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba #8 celebrates New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière #13 after Lafrenière scores a goal during the third period. The New York Rangers defeat the St. Louis Blues 6-4.
Jacob Trouba and the Rangers have found their stride right as the Penguins come to their doorstep.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Speaking of the playoffs, the Rangers are back above the cutoff line, sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 41 points. The Devils have cooled off after losing five in a row, including the overtime defeat at the hands of the Rangers at the Garden last week. As a result, the Hurricanes have caught up and are now tied with New Jersey at 44 points. Those teams will square off Tuesday in Carolina, while the Rangers take on the fourth-place Penguins in a battle for third. 

It might be the first time the Rangers and Penguins have met since that thrilling seven-game series, but all that matters is that this game has playoff implications for this season.

“Turn the page pretty quick,” Jacob Trouba said after the Rangers posted seven goals on the Blackhawks, and after the captain posterized Chicago forward Andreas Athanasiou with a perfectly timed chirp. “No different than if you lose a game like that. You’ve got to turn the page and move on to the next one. We’ve got another big test in two days and we want to finish this road trip off right.” 

Pittsburgh just enjoyed its own seven-game tear, which included highlight wins over the Central Division-leading Stars and the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights. The streak, however, was sandwiched between losses to the Hurricanes, who beat the Penguins on Sunday behind two third-period goals. 

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) moves the puck
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are riding a hot streak of their own.
AP Photo

The Rangers’ next three games will all be against division foes, as will the Penguins’. Aside from the bottom-feeding Blue Jackets and Flyers, the top six teams in the Metropolitan Division are separated by only one to three points. 

Bloodbath is the word that comes to mind when analyzing the Metro — and the Rangers are back in the thick of it.

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