One of the most intriguing matchups in the National Hockey League playoffs starting tonight features the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Rangers.
If for no other reason, the match will interesting because it features the first playoff appearance of the Penguins’ Mario Lemieux, who has supplanted the Kings’ Wayne Gretzky as the league’s leading scorer. Lemieux had 85 goals and 199 points this season.
Lemieux and the Penguins will be at home tonight and Thursday night against the Rangers, who lost 14 of their final 17 games after leading the Patrick Division most of the year. New York will be coached by General Manager Phil Esposito, who fired Michel Bergeron two games before the regular season ended.
In other series games tonight, Philadelphia will be at Washington, Hartford at Montreal, Buffalo at Boston, Chicago at Detroit, Minnesota at St. Louis and Vancouver at Calgary. The teams will play again Thursday night before switching cities for Saturday and Sunday games.
Lemieux, who won the league’s scoring championship in a runaway, may be wary against New York, which that has struggled in the past month.
“We haven’t won any big games yet,” Lemieux said. “The playoffs are certainly something I’m looking forward to. Hopefully, I can show the people I can play in those games and be a great leader.”
Esposito, once the NHL’s premier scorer 15 years ago, is hoping that the coaching change can inspire the Rangers.
“The confidence level on this team is not as good as it should be and it hasn’t been for some time,” he said.
“Hopefully something will rub off.”