The Rangers mantra heading into last night’s match against the returning Sidney Crosby was simple and twofold.
Do not allow Crosby the time and space to create, and be physical with the best player in the world.
"Against top players, you don’t change anything," Brandon Prust said after the Rangers’ early skate at the Garden. "You always try to take time and space and be physical on them. That’s how you’re supposed to play against them.
"Obviously he is a dangerous player and we have to be ready. We always have to be aware when he’s on the ice. You always have to be aware when he’s out there."
There was one person who held no compunction in dismissing the excitement surrounding last night’s Penguins-Rangers showdown. Unsurprisingly, it was John Tortorella, who dismissed five separate questions regarding Crosby, the importance of the game and the Penguins.
"You’re not going to get me to bite on it," Tortorella said "I think it is [garbage]."
The Rangers were shorthanded as Ryan Callahan (foot), Michael Del Zotto (hip) and Henrik Lundqvist (flu) missed the game.
Callahan told WFAN Wednesday that he hoped to be in the lineup against the Penguins. When Tortorella asked how Callahan’s foot was progressing, the coach responded, "He’s still out. I’m not going to get into a long … he’s still out. Leave it at that."
Lundqvist participated in the early skate. It was his first ice time since Sunday night’s 4-3 OT win over the Islanders.
Martin Biron started in place of Lundqvist and the organization called up Chad Johnson from AHL Connecticut. Last night’s game was only the second time this season Biron has played in consecutive games. He replaced Lundqvist in the third period of the 2-0 loss in Edmonton on Oct. 22, and started the 2-1 win in Winnipeg on Oct. 24.
"I’m not going to lie, it makes a little difference to have Marty play so well," Lundqvist said.
Richards on a roll
Lost in what Prust termed "a lot of hoopla" of Crosby’s re-debut is that Brad Richards appears to have come out of his scoring slump as the team prepares for playoff campaign.
Richards has eight points (five goals and three assists) in the last four games. His 53 points (23 goals and 30 assists) are second most on the team behind Marian Gaborik’s 64.
"Confidence is huge. The ability he has is pretty impressive to watch. It’s a little harder to do in a game setting. We see it in practice a lot," Brian Boyle said. "He’s been clutch for us this year. At big times, he’s scored huge goals, a bunch of game-winning goals, a lot of late-period goals. He’s done a really good job for us."
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.