PITTSBURGH -- In their final game before the Olympic break the Rangers had to work a little longer than normal, but in the end it was well worth it as the Rangers skated away with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers arrive at the break with 67 points, second only to Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.
Brad Richards scored the deciding goal in the third round of the shootout for the Rangers, who finished their season series against the Penguins with a 2-1-1 record. Mats Zuccarello had scored in the second round for New York, but Evgeni Malkin had evened the shootout with a goal to start the third round before Richards' game-winner.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 of 29 shots to backstop the big win for the Rangers, who were coming off a disappointing 2-1 home ice loss 24 hours earlier against Edmonton. Marc-Andre Fleury made 38 saves for the Penguins.
Benoit Pouliot, who scored the game's first goal just 64 seconds into play, snapped a 2-2 tie with a power play goal at 9:24 of the third period to lift the Rangers to their third one-goal lead of the game. However James Neal's 20th goal of the season with just 2:56 remaining in regulation tied the game once again.
On the third-period go-ahead goal Dan Girardi fired a shot wide of the net, but the puck bounced right to Pouliot off the back boards and Pouliot roofed the disc over Fleury for his second goal of the game and 11th of the season. It marked the first multiple-goal game this season for Pouliot, and the sixth of his NHL career.
Neal was left then left all alone in the low slot and converted a pass from Olli Maatta to pull the Penguins even eight minutes later.
Twice earlier in the contest the Rangers scored early in a period only to see the Penguins tie things up with a power play goal in response, and as such the two teams reached the second intermission tied 2-2. It could be argued that the Rangers had the better of the play at even strength, while the Penguins were dominant on the power play. New York held a 32-21 advantage in shots through two periods of play.
Pouliot opened the scoring just 1:04 into the game, giving the Rangers the early lead they so coveted. Marc Staal threw the puck on net from left wing where Zuccarello batted it against Fleury's left pad along the goal line. Pouliot swooped in and whacked the puck over the goal line for his tenth goal of the season, giving New York a 1-0 lead.
However with Carl Hagelin in the penalty box for interference at 10:15 of the first period the Penguins' league-best power play went to work. After several saves by Lundqvist Pittsburgh finally broke through at 11:43 when Maatta batted a rebound of Sidney Crosby's right-wing shot into the cage for the sixth goal of his rookie season, tying the game 1-1. Crosby picked up his league-leading 78th point by assisting on Maatta's goal.
Three minutes earlier Lundqvist had made a huge left-pad save on a Crosby breakaway. Including Friday's contest, Crosby has recorded 65 points in 47 career games against New York.
Granted a power play of their own 30 seconds into the middle stanza, the Rangers struck quickly to regain a one-goal advantage. Derick Brassard cleanly won a faceoff in the left circle, and Girardi hammered a slap shot past Fleury giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead just four seconds after James Neal went to the box for slashing.
The goal was Girardi's fourth of the season, while Brassard extended his point streak to six consecutive games with the lone assist. Earlier Zuccarello had also stretched his point streak to a career-high six games by assisting on Pouliot's first score.
Yet again the Penguins roared back on the power play to tie the game. This time, with Rick Nash in the penalty box for interference, Malkin ripped a right wing slap shot pat Lundqvist to the far side at 8:29, his 18th goal evening the score at two apiece.
The Rangers penalty kill did stiffen as the game wore on. The visitors killed another second period power play for the Penguins and then had a huge kill 5:26 into the third period of a tie 2-2 game, with one of their key penalty killers--Ryan McDonagh--the one sitting in the box.
That third-period kill proved to be even more clutch when Pouliot scored on the Rangers power play minutes later.
The Rangers, who will not play again until February 27th against the Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden, won five of their last six games before the break.