|NYR||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
|PIT||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||6|
• PHOTO GALLERY
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Pittsburgh Penguins erupted for five goals in the third period, including a pair from defenseman Kris Letang, as they handed the Rangers a 6-2 defeat on Wednesday evening at Mellon Arena.
Petr Sykora also scored twice in the victory for the Penguins, while Sidney Crosby recorded a goal and two assists, and Jordan Staal had a goal and an assist. Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was sharp, finishing with 32 saves.
The loss was the Rangers’ first since a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Pens 10 days ago.
After playing 40 minutes worth of a solid, all-around road contest, the Rangers allowed three goals in the opening 10 minutes of the third period, letting a 1-1 tie evaporate into a 4-1 deficit.
“We put ourselves in a situation where we’re 1-1 going into the third period on the road and had played a good, solid game and then the wheels fell off in the third,” observed defenseman Paul Mara. “It’s unexplainable and it’s unacceptable. It’s a tough loss to swallow.”
The go-ahead goal, scored by Pittsburgh’s Staal, was nothing short of a bad break for Henrik Lundqvist and his Rangers’ teammates. With his back to the goal, Staal sent a centering feed along the goal line from the left side that caromed off the left skate of a surprised Lundqvist. The puck trickled over the goal line for Staal’s 15th goal of the season, and the Penguins had grabbed a 2-1 lead.
“I made a mistake on the second goal, and then they scored again, and I just lost my game in the third totally,” said Lundqvist. “I just played terrible. I can’t explain it.”
Pittsburgh, which entered play on Wednesday out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, played like a desperate team hungry for a victory the rest of the way. Letang accepted a pretty backhanded pass from Crosby and rifled a rising right wing shot over the glove hand of Lundqvist at 6:18 and the Penguins were up 3-1.
Back-to-back penalties assessed to New York’s Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin set the stage for a back-breaking 5-on-3 power-play goal at 10:01 for the Penguins. Crosby again made a neat pass, this one into the slot where Sykora sent a quick shot towards Lundqvist. The puck seemed to deflect off Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal on its way between Lundqvist’s pads, giving Sykora his second goal of the night, and 19th of the season.
“It just happened so fast there in the third,” said Lundqvist. “I know I have to let this go, but right now I could just destroy this locker room.”
The older Staal gained a small measure of revenge when he fired a left-wing wrist shot past the glove hand of Fleury at the 13:55 mark of the final period for his second goal of the season. But Letang’s second goal of the third period, after a pretty end-to-end rush at 16:21, ended any hopes of a Rangers’ comeback.
Crosby closed out the scoring with a pretty backhander from in close for his 18th goal at 18:20.
“I know Henrik Lundqvist is being a good teammate and he is taking responsibility for what happened out there,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “But there had better be 18 skaters and the coaching staff taking their share of responsibility, too.”
The first period -- and the game -- got off to a rousing start when heavyweights Colton Orr of the Rangers and Eric Godard of the Penguins squared off at the opening drop of the puck. The two had a score to settle after several false starts, but no fight, when the teams met 10 days earlier. Orr and Godard both landed several big punches, with Godard delivering the last big blow before the officials stepped in to stop the fisticuffs.
Once that was out of the way, the Rangers and Penguins got down to the business of playing an exciting, up-tempo first 20 minutes in which each team scored once. Nikolai Zherdev put the Rangers on the scoreboard only 2:24 into the contest, scoring off a pretty move in which he dragged the puck to his left after faking a shot and the whistled the puck past Fleury from 15 feet out.
Zherdev’s 13th goal of the season -- and first in 14 games -- was set up by a strong Brandon Dubinsky rush that ended with a soft pass from left wing. The assist was part of a very solid opening stanza played by Dubinsky, who was in the middle of several good scoring chances in the period.
An unfortunate bounce cost the Rangers when the Penguins pulled even at 6:35 of the first. Chris Minard fired a right-wing shot that deflected off Lundqvist and straight up into the air. Minard seemed to be the only player who knew where the puck had gone and batted the rebound off of Lundqvist, and the puck deflected to Sykora in the low slot. As Lundqvist was bumped by Minard, Sykora swatted the puck out of mid air and into the cage, tying the game 1-1.
That score held up until the first intermission due in large part to the stellar play of Lundqvist. The Rangers’ All-Star netminder made a string of sensational saves that began with a pad stop on the league’s top scorer Evgeni Malkin after Malkin broke in behind defenseman Dan Girardi at 8:09. Nearly six minutes later, Lundqvist made an incredible lunging left pad save to deny Pascal Dupuis on a breakaway. And with eight seconds left in the period, he hugged his right post to make sure Malkin’s quick stuff attempt did not cross the goal line.
The first and last of those great scoring opportunities for the Penguins were set up by Crosby, who returned to the lineup after sitting out the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday because of a sore knee. Crosby had a terrific opening period, even after shaking off a hard open-ice hit by Orr with five minutes left in the first.
The Rangers tightened up their defensive game in the scoreless second period and picked up their offensive play, firing 18 shots at Fleury. Though the Rangers badly outchanced Pittsburgh and had a big territorial advantage in the middle stanza, the second period ended with the score still tied 1-1.
Fleury was strong in goal over the middle 20 minutes, and his lightning-quick right pad stop to deny Aaron Voros’ left wing shot during a 2-on-1 break with Zherdev 16:19 into the period was one for the television highlight shows.
Perhaps the Rangers’ best prolonged opportunity to snap the tie in the second came when Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot took back-to-back penalties at 7:40 and 10:30 -- the first for charging Lundqvist, the second for batting the puck over the glass resulting in a delay of the game call.
The Rangers pressed their advantage, moved the puck crisply, and had several excellent scoring chances -- most notably drives from defensemen Michal Rozsival and Mara -- but failed to get the puck past Fleury.
When Jordan Staal scored early in the third period to start the Penguins’ goal-scoring barrage that iced the game for the home team, the Rangers could only look back on their failed opportunities at a time when they were controlling long stretches of the game in the second period.
It won’t get any easier for the Rangers as next up they will travel to Boston to face the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins on Saturday afternoon.
|Nikolay Zherdev (13) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (18), Aaron Voros (7)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Petr Sykora (18) ASST: Chris Minard (1), Jordan Staal (13)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Jordan Staal (15) ASST: Ryan Whitney (6)|
2 - 1 PIT
|Kris Letang (2) ASST: Sidney Crosby (44), Mark Eaton (2)|
3 - 1 PIT
|PPG - Petr Sykora (19) ASST: Sidney Crosby (45), Ryan Whitney (7)|
4 - 1 PIT
|Marc Staal (2) ASST: Scott Gomez (25), Markus Naslund (18)|
4 - 2 PIT
|Kris Letang (3) ASST: Pascal Dupuis (4), Sidney Crosby (46)|
5 - 2 PIT
|Sidney Crosby (18) ASST: Evgeni Malkin (52), Philippe Boucher (5)|
6 - 2 PIT
|Colton Orr Fighting (maj) against Eric Godard|
|Eric Godard Fighting (maj) against Colton Orr|
|Pascal Dupuis Hi-sticking against Paul Mara|
|Maxime Talbot Charging against Henrik Lundqvist|
|Maxime Talbot Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Marc Staal Holding against Jordan Staal|
|Wade Redden Hooking against Evgeni Malkin|
|Dmitri Kalinin Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Paul Bissonnette Slashing against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Nikolay Zherdev Roughing against Paul Bissonnette|
|Markus Naslund Hi-sticking against Ryan Whitney|
|Ryan Whitney Roughing against Markus Naslund|
|Aaron Voros Unsportsmanlike conduct|
|Aaron Voros Misconduct (10 min)|
|SA: 33||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 27||EV: 20 - 25|
|PIM: 0||PP: 7 - 8|
|SV%: .818||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 34||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 32||EV: 24 - 26|
|PIM: 0||PP: 8 - 8|
|SV%: .941||SH: 0 - 0|