By TOM CASTRO
(AP) -- The New York Rangers suffered a critical loss to a streaking division opponent in their last game. They'll try to get back on track against a surging Western Conference team in their next one.
Having been dealt a blow in the battle for the top seed in the East, the Rangers continue their season-high seven-game homestand against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
While New York (44-19-7) continues to lead the conference, its margin over Pittsburgh was cut to four points with a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Thursday. The Rangers were thoroughly outplayed by a team that got star Sidney Crosby back en route to its 10th straight win.
New York, which has played one more game than Pittsburgh, has dropped four of six and failed to win a third straight in its biggest game of the season. The Rangers were missing top goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who's feeling the effects of the flu, along with captain Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip).
"We're still in first place and we're still a good team," center Brad Richards said. "We have guys coming back soon and we are going to keep plugging away."
Richards' line with Carl Hagelin and Marian Gaborik was one of the few bright spots Thursday. Richards had two assists, and Hagelin and Gaborik had a goal and an assist apiece for the speedy forward unit that has scored the team's last seven goals over three games.
The problem for the Rangers is the lack of production other than that line.
"We need to get some other guys going in behind it," coach John Tortorella said. "A few guys are struggling. I'm really excited at what Richie's line is doing, but we have to come back in there with something that can handle defensive stuff, and another line that can score a goal or two."
New York, which has totaled seven goals in its last four defeats, has four games remaining on this crucial homestand. The Rangers, though, will be facing several hot teams in those remaining contests, one of them a Colorado club fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the West.
The Avalanche (38-30-5) have put themselves into the crowded battle for a postseason spot by going 5-1-1 in their last seven. Colorado failed to extend its winning streak to four Thursday, though it picked up a point in a 1-0 shootout loss at New Jersey.
The Avs got a stellar effort out of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who made 15 of his 33 saves in the third period, but his teammates couldn't solve Martin Brodeur, who stopped 28 shots in the game and denied both attempts in the tiebreaker.
Colorado had won in a shootout the night before in Buffalo.
"Marty played a good game and made some key saves tonight," Giguere said. "I thought we did a good job of putting pucks on net and making it hard on him. It was difficult to play back-to-back games."
The Avs, closing out a three-game road trip, got forward Matt Duchene back after he missed four games with an ankle injury.
Lundqvist is uncertain to play against Colorado, which has taken the last two matchups and held the Rangers to one goal each time. The teams last met Nov. 19, 2010, a 5-1 Avs home victory.
Colorado has won four of five at Madison Square Garden.
Updated March 16, 2012