Next up? Crosby and Penguins

The Rangers kicked off a seven-game homestand with two straight wins but their biggest test awaits on Thursday when the Sidney Crosby and the scorching Pittsburgh Penguins come to town.

The game is much more than a marquee match-up between the Eastern Conference's elite, however.

The Penguins' 24-year-old captain continues to captivate the NHL as he makes his second return this season; Crosby has not played since December 5 because of post-concussion symptoms and has been limited to eight games over the last 14 months because of a head injury sustained last season.

And everyone remembers how his first comeback went, right?

Crosby tallied two goals and recorded four points against the Islanders and rookie goaltender Anders Nilsson in his triumphant return November 21. The Eastern Conference-leading Blueshirts hope to make things much more unpleasant for the league's reigning superstar.

New York limited Crosby to two assists in the only game against him this season -- a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh November 29 -- and hope to thwart him again with less than a month remaining in the regular season.

With a 4-2 win against Carolina Tuesday, in which their top line of Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik combined for nine points, the Rangers widened their lead on the Penguins to six points in the Atlantic Division standings.

The Rangers are irrefutably the team to beat, but the Penguins are definitely the hottest. They enter the Garden on a nine-game winning streak and may bolster their lineup beyond adding Crosby; defenseman Kris Letang also appears eligible to return for the Pens.

What does Rangers GM Glen Sather think of a healthy Penguins squad? ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun has the story here.