As the New York Rangers fade a little bit, the Pittsburgh Penguins are peaking at the right time. Can they take advantage and propel themselves closer to first in the conference? See who we like as these two sides meet tonight.

Throughout most of the regular season, the lead for the Eastern Conference hasn’t been a race. The New York Rangers have held the spot for quite some time and had a buffer at the top too. 

But as the month of March hit, the Rangers slumped and the Pittsburgh Penguins heated up. Now the Penguins find themselves just six points back for the Rangers with a game in hand, a meeting on and one more matchup after that. 

And oh yeah, superstar Sidney Crosby is back in the lineup on Thursday, which should only give them a boost.

Thursday, March 15th

NHL odds makers had initially opened this game as a pick em’, with the matchup’s total set at 5.5. Early sports betting action has now pushed the Penguins to -130 at most NHL betting shops. Should we follow the public in this matchup, or will we find better value by placing our NHL pickssomewhere else?

The Pittsburgh Penguins can win because… 

Penguins vs. RangersThey’re the hottest team in the NHL. The Pens have won nine straight and 21 of their last 26 games. And the cherry on top is that they’ve done it all without Sid the Kid, who is finally returning on Thursday. 

The Pens might have a serious edge in net on Thursday as King Henrik is dealing with the flu and might not play. Even if he does, he’s struggled this month with a 3.15 GAA and an .879 save percentage. On the flip side, Marc-Andre Fleury has been fantastic. He’s 4-0-0 in March with a 1.23 GAA and has won 11 of 14 starts since the All-Star break. 

The Rangers are a little banged up right now as Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Callahan are also day-to-day and might miss the game. The Pens beat the Rangers 2-0 on February 21st without Crosby. Now that he’s back, it should only tip the scales in their favor even more. 

The New York Rangers can win because… 

They’ve regained their footing. The Rangers slipped up earlier in this month with an ugly stretch of four losses in five games. They’ve rebounded with a back-to-back wins and now all is good in the hood. 

Truth be told, the Rangers slump was more about the schedule than anything else. They had six games in nine days to start the month and not only were they tired, they didn’t really bring their best effort. It’s not hard to blame them for being a bit complacent given how big of a lead they had atop the conference. 

The good news is that they’re back on track and they’re playing at home. Goaltender Henrik Lunqvist is 18-6-2 at Madison Square Garden this season with a 1.78 GAA. He missed the team’s last game with the flu but the team is hoping to get him back to full strength for Thursday’s game. The good news is that backup Martin Biron is 12-4-2 on the season with a 2.23 GAA. He’s won six of seven starts at MSG while posting a 2.13 GAA. 

The Rangers are 24-7-2 at home this season and even if they aren’t peaking right now, they can use their home crowd to propel them to a win.

Outlook & NHL Betting Prediction: 

This game might look like a toss-up, but Pittsburgh has to be the play. Bettors and touts who do their home work will note that the Pens are in better shape physically and mentally coming into this game.

The Pens look like the best team in the NHL right now and that was without Crosby. On Thursday, he’ll rejoin the team and that should only fuel them even more to keep their impressive hot streak alive.

NHL Picks: Penguins