Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rangers 3, Penguins 2 despite Loss, Sullivan Focuses on Positives

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rangers 3, Penguins 2 despite Loss, Sullivan Focuses on Positives

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - When the puck drops for Game 1 of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against Columbus next week, their lineup will look drastically different than it did Sunday night in New York or, for that matter, Saturday in Toronto.

The Penguins closed out the regular season with a 3-2 loss Sunday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, with mixture of NHL regulars and AHL call-ups playing out the string in a game that had no playoff implications.

A litany of lineup stalwarts - including the entire regular first line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary - did not dress, but most of the focus was on just one.

Despite repeating in recent days that he was close to being ready to return, center Evgeni Malkin did not play for the 13th consecutive game because of an upper-body injury.

Coach Mike Sullivan said before the game he still expected Malkin to be ready for Game 1 against the Blue Jackets this week in Pittsburgh.

"He's really making progress," Sullivan said before the game. "We've taken a cautious approach with him for obvious reasons. We're certainly encouraged with the progress that he's made. We'll take each day as it comes."

For the players who did dress, Sunday's game was more about making sure they went into the playoffs on the right note rather than the result of the game. That meant something slightly different for just about each player on the ice.

Olli Maatta made his return to game action after 25 games out of the lineup recovering from Feb. 17 hand surgery. Maatta played 20:15 Sunday night, and said he felt like it was important for him to get even just one game in before the playoffs.

"I don't think it's conditioning," he said. "I think it's more timing, getting back out there. It's different in practice. It's tough to get a game-like practice. The best way to get ready is just play more games."

Nick Bonino, who got his rest night Saturday in Toronto, continued his run of strong play over the final few months of the season with a first-period goal to put the Penguins ahead. Bonino has nine goals over his final 20 games of the season, after putting up the same number in the first 60. …

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