The Rangers have shown they can consistently get under the skin of elite opponents. Tonight, they’ll have a chance to show they can consistently compete with them, too.
“We feel good about ourselves, but we want to continue to work hard. We want to be the team that other people talk about,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who landed a punch on Alex Ovechkin and a goal in the Rangers’ 7-0 rout of the Capitals on Sunday. “We feel like we are an elite team in this conference.”
Dubinsky will learn exactly where his team ranks in the league and the Eastern Conference when they play the NHL’s best team in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins were on a 12-game winning streak before losing to the Flyers last night. It was just their second loss since Nov. 15 when Ryan Callahan beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Rangers a 3-2 win in overtime.
The game between the Atlantic Division rivals could be intense. Dubinsky and Callahan accused Sidney Crosby of slew-footing Callahan in the first period of the Rangers’ 3-1 loss at the Garden on Nov. 29. Dubinsky said it a “dirty” play and “that’s the kind of [guy] he is.” Crosby then dropped his normally guarded persona in a return exchange.
“How many penalty minutes do I have this year, if I’m that dirty? I mean, please. Show me all those dirty plays,” Crosby said with a mixture of irritation and sarcasm. “It’s a battle, and he falls. I think Dubi has done his fair share of things that are questionable. I guess he’s talking again. … I’m not surprised.”
The controversy has not slowed down the former MVP, who leads the league with 26 goals and 51 points. His 27 assists are third-most in the league. If that is not impressive enough, Crosby has scored 20 goals and 38 points in Pittsburgh’s last 19 games (15-3-1).
Tonight’s match ends a three-game stretch in which the Marc Staal-Dan Girardi defensive pairing has been matched up against Columbus’ Rick Nash, Washington’s Ovechkin and Crosby. On Sunday afternoon, John Tortorella praised the work that his top defense pair did against Nash despite his three-point performance Saturday in Columbus’ 3-1 win.
“(Nash and Ovechkin) are hard players. These are two quality players,” Tortorella said. “We play Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom tonight, and we play Crosby. Marc and Danny were outstanding last night against Nash. They have their hands full. It can’t be just those two. It has to be a team defense.”
The duo was key in the Rangers’ elimination of Ovechkin in the win over the Caps. Ovechkin was minus-1 while Staal and Girardi combined for a goal, three assists and were plus-five in the rout.