Taking full advantage of overlapping third-period penalties, the Rangers rode a pair of power-play goals to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins before a sellout matinee crowd at the CONSOL Energy Center.
The Pens, who outshot the Blueshirts 40-27 while holding a decided edge in territorial play, deserved a better fate. James Neal set the tone on the opening shift when he tested Henrik Lundqvist with a sizzling shot from the slot. The Pens continued to pressure the All-Star goalie through the early going, piling up a 7-1 advantage in shots, but “King Henrik” proved up to the task.
Buoyed by Lundqvist’s solid play, New York drew first blood at the 11:20 mark when Artem Anismov beat Marc-Andre Fleury following a turnover by Chris Conner. The Pens evened the score just over four minutes later on a beautiful play by Neal. Gathering in a long outlet pass from Ben Lovejoy, the rugged winger sprang Jordan Staal loose for a breakaway with a pretty feed from the sideboards. Staal swooped behind the Rangers’ defense and rifled the puck past Lundqvist for his 10th goal of the season.
Firing on all cylinders, the Penguins turned up the heat in the second period. Playing with his customary fire, Max Talbot set up Matt Cooke for a good scoring chance on a give-and-go. Later in the frame the plucky center fed Matt Niskanen, who unleashed a blistering drive from the high slot. Once again, however, Lundqvist stood tall.
The complexion of the game turned at 4:36 of the third period when Cooke hammered Ryan McDonagh with an elbow. The feisty winger was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Displaying tons of heart, the Pens’ penalty killers rose to the occasion with a gritty, inspired effort. At 6:26 Chris Kunitz picked off a wayward pass by Mats Zuccarello and beat Lundqvist with a rising wrist shot from the right faceoff circle for a shorthanded goal.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck snubbed the Penguins once again. Barely a minute after Kunitz’ tally, Matt Niskanen caught the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan with an accidental high stick to draw a double-minor. Short-handed by two men, the black and gold gamely killed off all but eight seconds of the 5-on-3 before sniper Marian Gaborik scored the equalizer. Eleven seconds later Callahan struck for the go-ahead goal.
Down 3-2, the Penguins made one final push when McDonagh drew a roughing penalty at 16:35. Seconds into the power play Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy nearly tied the game from a goal-mouth scramble, but neither was able to chip the puck past a prone Lundqvist. Derek Stephan and Brandon Dubinsky tacked on a pair of insurance goals for New York to make the final score 5-2.
The Pens dropped the season series with the Rangers, 2-3-1 … The loss snapped the Pens’ two-game winning streak … The Pens power play was 0 for 3 … The team has converted on only two of its last 45 chances with the man-advantage … Chris Conner dressed in place of Mark Letestu (shoulder injury) … The sellout was the Pens’ 202nd in a row … Sidney Crosby took to the ice for a morning skate and participated in some light puck-handling drills.
The Penguins travel to the Motor City Monday night to take on the Red Wings in a nationally televised game on Versus. Detroit currently leads the Central Division with 94 points.
Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful 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. A must have for any true Penguins fan.