Earlier in the day Wednesday, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said that he was "excited" that his team was playing the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins that night. Maybe the coach was on to something as the Rangers proceeded to beat the Penguins 5-1 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to close out their four-game homestand in style.
Henrik Lundqvist set the tone by making a sensational diving stick save on Sidney Crosby twenty seconds into the contest, and was the team's backbone in snapping the Penguins four-game winning streak. Lundqvist, sharp throughout, finished the night with 28 saves, easily outdueling Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who entered the game 10-2-0 in 12 starts with a 1.83 against average.
Five different Rangers scored goals as the team equaled its season-best by scoring five times. It was only the fourth time all season that Fleury had surrendered three goals or more, and the five he allowed were a season high. It was also only the third time all season that Crosby, the NHL's top scorer, was held off the scoresheet.
Brian Boyle had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, while Brad Richards contributed two assists in a result that was not too dissimilar to Pittsburgh's last visit to The Garden--a 6-1 Blueshirt triumph last April the 3rd.
After weathering a strong start by the Penguins--thanks to some superb goaltending by Lundqvist---the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead by scoring twice in a 65 second span late in the first period. Then after swapping goals with Pittsburgh more than halfway through the second period, the Rangers stymied any building momentum by the visitors by scoring a goal of their own just 64 seconds after Pittsburgh had finally put a puck past Lundqvist and carried that 4-1 lead into the second intermission.
Boyle helped get the Rangers on the board first at 18:08 of the opening period when he won a series of puck battles behind the Penguins net and then slid the puck into the left circle where Ryan McDonagh netted his third goal of the season. In a period where the Rangers chased the puck nearly the entire time, Boyle's hard work and puck posession were key components in giving New York a 1-0 lead.
Derek Stepan then was the recipient of a splendid saucer pass off the stick of Mats Zuccarello which sprung the Rangers center over the Pens blueline. Stepan made no mistake beating Fleury up high at 19:13 for his fourth goal of the season, and fourth in the past three games, doubling the Rangers advantage.
Carrying momentum into the second period, the Rangers played the game more on their terms and scored twice more. Boyle made it 3-0 Rangers with his first goal of the season, and first in 19 games dating back to last April, at the 13:10 mark of the second. Set up in the high slot by Richards, Boyle ripped a shot past Fleury, and the Rangers had a three-goal lead.
However, with Benoit Pouliot in the penalty box, Pittsburgh finally found a way to slip a puck past the extremely sharp Lundqvist. Amidst a scramble in his crease, Lundqvist feverishly tried to find the loose puck while on his knees, only to have Kris Letang find it first and slide it into the cage to cut the Rangers lead down to 3-1 at 14:34.
Instead of caving in, the Rangers answered back. Carl Hagelin's left-wing shot was tipped twice on the way to the net---first by Richards, then by Ryan Callahan, who was credited with his fourth goal---and the Rangers once again were up by three with 4:22 to play in the second period.
After killing off an early third-period penalty, the Rangers settled in and controlled most of the final period of play. Derick Brassard tapped in his third goal of the season---with Derek Dorsett picking up his first assist---at 9:57 to effectivley seal the victory.
The Rangers won three of the four games on this homestand, and have now won four of their last five games overall heading into Thursday's showdown with the Blue Jackets out in Columbus.
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