Familiarity runs deep in the Rangers-Penguins playoff series

You know the names, and so do the Rangers:

Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin and Kris Letang. Mike Sullivan behind the bench. Though so much has changed for the Rangers and Penguins since their last playoff clash in 2016, these four are a familiar sight.

“You know Pittsburgh,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant after his team’s 3-2 win over the Capitals in the final game of the regular season on Friday.

Penguins’ past editions are well known, but Rangers have become quite familiar with the current one as well.

They have played Pittsburgh four times this season, twice at each team’s respective building. The first meeting of the penguins took place in February. Three of those games have been played since March 25 and Rangers have won all three 5-1, 3-2, 3-0.

Pittsburgh's Jeff Carter (77) and Teddy Blueger (53).
Rangers’ Artemi Panarin (10) plays the puck against Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter (77) and Teddy Blueger (53).
USA TODAY sports

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s not in the picture,” Gallant said. “Just because we beat them the last three doesn’t mean anything to me. I have to prepare myself to play against a really good team and it should be a really good series.”

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Gallant said because the Rangers recently played the Penguins it will be a little easier to spot them, but that goes for both teams.

“We know what they’re doing and what kind of team it is, but now it’s 0-0,” said Mika Zibanejad. “Everyone starts again from scratch. I do not believe that [having played them] makes a big difference.”

Zibanejad wasn’t here when the Penguins swept past Rangers in the first round of the playoffs in 2016 – the only survivor from that blueshirts roster is Chris Kreider. But Zibanejad was with Rangers a year later when the Senators ended their season in the second round. That was the last time playoff hockey was played at Madison Square Garden.

“It was agony,” said Zibanejad. “For a few long years. Definitely worth the wait to return to the playoffs. When I look at this group that we have, I’m super happy that I get to be a part of the solution.”

It’s been a long way back, but Rangers are heading into the postseason dangerously. They’ll open the series as favorites to beat Pittsburgh and if Igor Shesterkin is at his best at the net, they can beat anyone any night. At 51-24-6, they proved themselves well enough during the regular season that Gallant has spent the last few weeks making games matter when they really weren’t.

On paper, the Rangers are a better team than the Penguins, who are dealing with an injured Tristan Jarry at net and a potentially injured Brian Dumoulin in defence.

Sidney Crosby shoots at Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.
Sidney Crosby shoots at Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.

But you can throw that out in the playoffs.

“They’re a talented team, they’re an experienced team,” Gallant said. “They have a lot of experienced people, but I like our team here too. We have a good mix of young people who have made a big step for us this year. I like what we’re going to bring.”

There’s still the Crosby and Malkin and Letang thing. Their combined age is 104 and their combined playoff experience is 486 games. This experience will feel the same as it did six years ago.

However, Rangers will feel completely different.

“You know all these players,” Gallant said. “That doesn’t worry us. We know what they will bring.

“It’s about what we bring with us. And we’ve been doing that all season, so we’re ready for this series.” Familiarity runs deep in the Rangers-Penguins playoff series


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