Close games are starting to become the norm for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are within striking distance of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Heading into Monday's visit to the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh (41-24-11, 93 points) is 13-4-4 in its last 21 games -- with eight of those wins coming by two goals or fewer.
The Penguins lost four straight from Feb. 2-9 and went 5-8-1 in the 14 games immediately after their eight-game winning streak from Dec. 19-Jan. 4. In the last game of that slump the Penguins were seven points out, but after getting a 3-2 win Saturday night in Dallas they are third in the division -- two points behind the New York Islanders and three behind first-place Washington.
During this hot stretch, the Penguins are 8-1-4 in games decided by two goals or less.
"We've had some practice with tight games and defending leads and that kind of thing," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "I'd like to think we're getting better in that area, and with every experience, we've gone through, I think it's helped us."
On Saturday, the Penguins were tied through two periods and deadlocked until Jared McCann scored 4:20 into the third period. McCann scored twice Saturday and has 11 goals (three short-handed) in 26 games since being obtained in a trade from the Florida Panthers.
Crosby did not get a point in Saturday's game but in his last 21 games, he has 10 goals and 21 assists. Phil Kessel registered two assists Saturday and has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his last 12 games.
Jake Guentzel also scored Saturday and is two goals shy of becoming the 20th player in team history to get 40 goals. He has nine goals in his last 12 games.
The Penguins played their third straight game without Evgeni Malkin, who is week-to-week with an upper-body injury after getting hurt in a 5-1 loss to St. Louis on March 16. Malkin skated in Pittsburgh Saturday and is not expected to play Monday.
The Penguins also hope Matt Murray can continue his hot stretch after making 29 saves Saturday. Murray is 7-2-2 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in his last 11 starts.
The Rangers (29-32-13, 71 points) know all about playing close games as 40 of their games are one-goal games, the team's most since playing 43 in the 2008-09 season. It is the seventh time in team history they have played at least 40 one-goal games.
The Rangers are 17-10-13 in one-goal games after Ryan Strome scored 1:43 into overtime in a 2-1 win at Toronto to snap a five-game losing streak.
"I'm just really proud of our guys," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "It's been a tough stretch, as we've all talked about. And to come up here, in this building and get two points against this team, who's in the middle of a playoff battle for positioning and seeding and home ice says an awful lot about our character."
New York will seek consecutive wins for the first time since winning three straight Jan. 15-19. The Rangers are 8-12-6 since that streak.
The Rangers played without Chris Kreider, who did not make the trip due to a lower-body injury. Kreider was sent for an MRI exam and could miss Monday's game.
Pittsburgh has won 10 of the last 14 meetings, including the first two this season. On Jan. 2, the Penguins scored four times in the second period of a 7-2 win in New York and on Feb. 17, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang scored two goals apiece in a 6-5 home win.
--Field Level Media
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