With the first chance to meet face to face, the gap suddenly didn't seem so wide on the ice.
Brian Boyle scored his first goal of the season and captain Ryan Callahan added his first since returning from a broken thumb as the Rangers matched a season high in goals with a 5-1 victory over the Penguins on Wednesday night.
"You don't focus on the other teams and where they are," said Henrik Lundqvist, who kept the Penguins at bay in a tough first period and finished with 28 saves. "We have to focus on ourselves. As long as we take care of our business, we are going to end up in good shape."
Pittsburgh had won four straight and defeated New York eight times in nine meetings, but Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan scored 1:05 apart late in the first period to put the Rangers ahead. Boyle and Callahan connected within a 2:28 span of the second to send New York to its fourth win in five games.
The Rangers quickly headed to a flight after the game for a meeting with the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday.
Kris Letang's power-play goal pulled the Penguins to 3-1 with 5:26 left in the second, but Callahan's fourth of the season -- in his second game back in the lineup -- restored the Rangers' three-goal lead 1:04 later.
"We generated some good chances, but there is no guarantee when you do that," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We were generating, so I don't think there was a need to force things."
Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out Pittsburgh's 3-0 win at Columbus on Saturday, stopped 20 shots.
"We weren't good," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We gave them opportunities. We didn't play at all at our game and then we got disjointed in our effort. We got disjointed in our game in the second.
"That wasn't anything close to where we need to play or want to play."
The Rangers (7-8) scored more than three goals for the second time this season but reached five for the second time in three games. New York has held opponents to two goals or fewer in eight straight games and nine of 10.
The Penguins went 1 for 8 on the power play.
"Everyone contributed right through the lineup," Callahan said. "That is what you need when you're playing one of the top teams in the league. Our penalty-kill was a big part of it. They have a strong power play.
"It's a win that we can build on."
Pittsburgh (11-5) fell to 4-3 on the road and allowed more than two goals for only the sixth time.
New York led 2-0 when Richards found Boyle streaking down the middle of the Pittsburgh zone for a shot that got past Fleury with 6:50 remaining in the second.
For the opening 18 minutes of the game, the Penguins had everything going their way. But despite controlling the puck and having multiple scoring chances, Pittsburgh remained locked in a scoreless tie.
Then, in just more than a minute, the Rangers cashed in a pair and skated off with a stunning 2-0 lead.
Boyle won a puck battle behind the net and backhanded a pass into the left circle that McDonagh gathered before snapping off a shot that beat Fleury with 1:52 left in the first for his third goal.
The Madison Square Garden crowd was still buzzing when the Rangers quickly made something out of nothing for another goal.
The puck came out of the Pittsburgh zone, and Mats Zuccarello forced a Penguins turnover at center ice in front of the penalty boxes. Chris Kreider got the puck back to Zuccarello, who saw Stepan streaking into the Penguins end. Zuccarello flipped a pass back into the zone that Stepan chased down and deftly roofed in the net with 46.3 seconds left for his fourth goal.
"It was more devastating because we gave them the opportunities," Bylsma said. "We gave them the second goal, gave them basically a breakaway with how we managed the puck in the neutral zone."
The Penguins finished the first with a 12-9 edge in shots, including a drive by defenseman Matt Niskanen that was deflected by teammate Pascal Dupuis and through Lundqvist. The goalie desperately reached behind him as the puck fluttered and rolled toward the goal line, but it was swept out of harm's way by Callahan with 6:32 left.
About four minutes later, Craig Adams rang a shot off the right post behind Lundqvist.
C J.T. Miller returned to the Rangers' lineup after being scratched against Anaheim. LW Brandon Mashinter sat out. ... Fleury was 6-1 in his previous seven starts against the Rangers. ... Pittsburgh held New York to two goals or less in seven of the previous nine meetings, including three shutouts. ... Dupuis sustained an undisclosed injury and didn't play after the second period. ... Penguins LW Chris Kunitz had a four-game goal streak snapped. Evgeni Malkin hasn't scored in nine games.