The Penguins undeniably were excited about playing their first, honest-to-goodness division rivalry game of the season when they faced the New York Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. As it turned out, the red-hot Rangers were every bit as stoked. Riding a four-goal second period explosion and the clutch goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts staved off a late Penguins surge to prevail 4-3.
Unfortunately, the Pens entered the contest with a banged-up defensive corps. With key performers Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek shelved due to injuries, the black and gold summoned Robert Bortuzzo and Alexandre Picard from Wilkes-Barre hours before game time.
Tyler Kennedy and Rangers agitator Sean Avery set the tone for a chippy affair (66 hits) by dropping the mitts twice before the game was three minutes old. Aided by some undisciplined play by their hosts, the Pens controlled the tempo throughout the opening frame, piling up a 14-9 edge in shots. At 17:56 they cashed in on the power play, as James Neal gathered in a picture-perfect pass from Sidney Crosby in the slot and blew the puck past Lundqvist on the stick side.
The second period was one the Pens would like to forget. Following a game-tying power-play tally by Ryan Callahan at 8:01, the floodgates opened. In a span of just over four minutes John Mitchell, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik struck for the Blueshirts to turn a nail-biter into a 4-1 rout. Evgeni Malkin revived the Pens’ flickering hopes seconds before the buzzer when he streaked down the right side of the Rangers’ zone and finished off a made-to-order feed from Neal.
Taking a page from their victory over Montreal on Saturday night, the Pens took advantage of a let-up by New York early in the third period to close the gap to 4-3. With the Rangers anticipating a whistle, Pascal Dupuis cut across the slot and flung a backhander over Lundqvist’s outstretched glove for his seventh goal of the season.
Poised for another dramatic comeback the Penguins promptly shot themselves in the foot, handing the Rangers a pair of five-on-threes in the closing minutes of play. Although the penalty killers rose to the occasion, the Pens had precious little time to mount a sustained attack. Lundqvist snuffed out a late flurry to earn his 10th victory of the season.
“We were getting close and it’s obviously tough,” Crosby said. “The penalty kill did a great job with two sets of five-on-threes. They at least gave us a chance to get back in the game. It’s just unfortunate that really what it boiled down to was that second period and that lull we had.”
Malkin (a goal) earned the No. 3 star … Crosby picked up two assists … Sid has 11 points in five games … Neal has 14 goals on the season (including seven power-play tallies) … The Rangers out-shot the Pens 30-27 … New York dominated the face-off circle 40-17 … Brooks Orpik paced the Pens with four hits … Dustin Jeffrey, Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Steve MacIntyre, Michalek, Richard Park, and Brian Strait were scratches.
The Penguins (14-7-4) meet the Capitals (12-10-1) Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington. The Caps fired long-time coach Bruce Boudreau on Monday and replaced him with Dale Hunter. The Pens lost to Washington 3-2 in overtime at CONSOL Energy Center on October 13.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.