|4:00 PM PT5:00 PM MT6:00 PM CT7:00 PM ET0:00 GMT8:00 5:00 PM MST7:00 PM EST4:00 UAE (+1)19:00 ETNaN:� BRT, January 2, 2019
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York Attendance: 18,006
The Pittsburgh Penguins spent December solidifying their place among playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.
If the New York Rangers hope to return to the postseason after a one-year absence, they'll have to spend January making up ground on the Penguins - and the rest of the field.
The Rangers will host the Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night in the first game of 2019 for both teams. Each squad ended 2018 with road victories Monday, Pittsburgh winning 3-2 at Minnesota and New York edging St. Louis 2-1.
The win was the second straight for the Rangers (17-14-7, 38 points), who collected points in their final four games of December (2-0-2) to cap a month in which they lost eight of 12 (4-3-5). It is their longest points streak since a seven-game run (6-0-1) from Oct. 30 through Nov. 12.
New York began the new year six points out of the second wild-card spot and an accompanying sense of urgency, especially after pulling out a win Monday despite being outshot 40-23 by the Blues, including 16-4 in a scoreless third period.
"If we don't dig deep here I the next three weeks, we're probably out of the race," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist told the media after he made 39 saves in Monday night's win. "And like I talked about the last couple weeks, it's not about being great all the time. We've got to be smart. And playing the last 10 minutes, we don't need to take a chance."
The Penguins (21-12-6, 48 points) are in far sturdier position after ending December with six straight wins - surrendering no more than two goals in any of the games - and finishing the month with an 11-3-1 record. Pittsburgh is in third place in the Metropolitan Division, seven points ahead of the Rangers and three points behind the first-place Washington Capitals.
"It's been different things," Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby said following Monday's victory. "We still need to improve, but I think our mentality - we're doing a better job of keeping things simple and not forcing things, for the most part."
Lundqvist is likely to oppose Matt Murray in a battle of No. 1 goalies Wednesday night.
Lundqvist, who has started the last four games for the Rangers, is 29-23-11 in 63 regular-season appearances against the Penguins and 10-11 in 22 playoff games. He has faced Pittsburgh more than any other opponent.
Murray, who sat Monday in favor of Casey DeSmith, has won all five of his starts since returning to action Dec. 15 following a month-long battle with a lower-body injury. The 24-year-old last played Saturday, when he recorded 30 saves as the Penguins cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Blues.
Murray has never lost to the Rangers, against whom he is 4-0-0 in four regular-season appearances and 3-0 in three playoff games, all of which were played during the 2015-16 postseason.
Updated January 2, 2019