The Rangers showed tremendous resolve, and earned a point in the standings, erasing a two-goal deficit late in the third period before falling to the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the shootout, 4-3, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh's Brandon Sutter scored the only goal of the entire shootout, in the fifth round, to hand the Penguins the extra point and drop the Rangers to 1-3-2 through six games on their current nine-game homestand.
Playing with ten of their regulars missing from the lineup either due to injury or suspension the Penguins continued to roll on, becoming the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach 50 points this season---the Pens now have 25 wins and 51 points. Pittsburgh has won five games in a row, and ten of their last 11.
With the score tied 1-1 early in the third period, and with both teams having played on even terms in most facets of the game to that point, the Penguins struck twice in a span of 61 seconds to seemingly take control of the game with a 3-1 lead against a shocked and angry Rangers squad.
Former Blueshirt Pascal Dupuis netted his sixth of the season at 5:25 following a pretty passing sequence involving Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby, with all three players on the Pens top line recording their second points of the night. The Rangers felt that before the goal happened play should have been stopped because Kunitz had slashed Ryan McDonagh's stick out of his hands, forcing the Blueshirts defenseman to play without one. No call was made and the Penguins had the go-ahead goal.
For the second game in a row, and third time on this homestand, the Rangers would climb out of a third-period hole and force overtime.
A speedy rush up right wing by Rangers defenseman John Moore helped New York get back in the game with 7:17 left to play and cut the deficit to a single goal. Moore backed the Pens defense off with his speed before firing a shot on goal that Marc-Andre Fleury stopped, but left the rebound behind him in the blue paint. Mats Zuccarello hustled in and tapped the loose puck over the goal line for his seventh goal of the season, making the score 3-2. Moore's assist on the goal was his second of the game.
Then handed a power play when Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen high-sticked Carl Hagelin with 2:43 remaining in regulation, the Rangers capitalized when Derick Brassard buried a rebound of Benoit Pouliot's slap shot with 1:46 left on the game clock. Pouliot's right-wing blast missed its intended target, but the big rebound came out to the wide open Brassard on left wing and he buried his sixth goal from the circle, tying the score 3-3.
The Rangers received the first major break of overtime when Kunitz was penalized for running into Lundqvist just 14 seconds into the extra session. Though the Rangers had some excellent looks, and fired four shots on goal, Fleury came up big for the visitors and kept the score tied. Lundqvust was shaken up on the play, and trainer Jim Ramsay attended to him on the ice for several minutes before it was determined the Rangers No. 1 goalie was OK to remain in the game.
With less than two minutes remaining in overtime Crosby had a pont blank shot denied by Lundqvist, who lost sight of the rebound before fortunately falling back on the puck as mayhem erupted around his crease. Lundqvist made three saves in overtime while Fleury made six. For the game bth goalies stopped 29 of 32 shots.
Hagelin's breakaway goal late in the second period changed the whole complexion of how the Rangers felt about the first 40 minutes of play. His goal tied the score at one apiece, and provided a completely different vibe then if the Blueshirts were forced to enter the third period chasing a Penguins lead.
Hagelin batted John Moore's pass out of mid air in the neutral zone---after a Brad Richards defensive-zone faceoff win---and then settled the puck and turned on the afterburners, blowing past Penguins defenseman Simon Despres before cutting in on Fleury and beating the Penguins goalie between the pads 4:25 before the second intermission. The goal was Hagelin's second in as many games and seventh of the season.
Pittsburgh had taken a 1-0 lead three minutes earlier on a Kunitz power play goal. With McDonagh, a key penalty killer, in the penalty box for having tripped Crosby on a partial break at 11:21, the Rangers scrambled a bit in their own end and the Penguins peppered Lundqvist with four shots before Kunitz finally pushed a puck under the prone Rangers goaltender for his 18th goal at 12:44.
That the teams reached the second intermission tied on the scoreboard was fitting considering how evenly played the game was through 40 minutes. Pittsburgh outshot New York 20-17 through two periods, with both teams generating 11 shots on goal in the second period. Both goaltenders were sharp when called upon, with Fleury being called on to make the game's first big save just 1:21 into the game when he robbed Rick Nash from in close after a nifty give-and-go between Nash and Derek Stepan.
The Penguins did not record their first shot of the night until 6:59 had elapsed in the first period, though shortly thereafter they forced Lundqvist to make a sensational save while lunging across the crease to his right to deny Kunitz after a slick pass from Dupuis.
The Rangers return to action Friday night when they host the Islanders at The Garden.