Even without some of their top players, the Penguins still had the game’s best in Sidney Crosby. That was enough for them in a entertaining 4-3 shootout win over Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers in what amounted to another home loss. Led by a goal and assist along with the shootout clincher by Crosby, the Pens prevailed at MSG.
The Rangers have now lost eight straight at home. They haven’t won on home ice since Feb. 19. It’s become an easy place for opponents to make themselves feel welcome. Don’t tell Dolan that as he prices more season ticket holders out turning his renovated arena into a tourist attraction. As long as he rips off paying customers, who cares if there’s no atmosphere.
As for the game, it was a good one between old Patrick rivals. The Pens took their third straight to go up 3-1 in the season series. At least this one was competitive. Even though there was no Evgeni Malkin (why would there be if he’s on my tanking fantasy team), Kris Letang (may as well change his name to IR) and Carl Hagelin. The Pens were without like half their lineup and still won.
The Rangers sat out Ryan McDonagh finally. Even if they claim he’s “day-to-day,” it was a good excuse to give the captain a night off. Both Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein dressed. Girardi was mismatched with Nick Holden while Klein worked with Marc Staal. Brady Skjei with Brendan Smith for most until the third when Alain Vigneault made an adjustment, admitting he wanted to utilize Skjei’s speed. Well, it’s about time. He did also elevate J.T. Miller from the fourth line to the second line, switching down an ineffective Pavel Buchnevich, who was horrid defensively.
Give Vigneault credit for making necessary changes that allowed his team to rally from a two-goal deficit in the third period and earn a point. For a second game in a row, Miller had it going. After recording two goals in the 5-4 loss at San Jose, he had the primary assists on third period goals from Rick Nash (suddenly on fire) and Chris Kreider, who tied the game with 11.5 seconds left.
Without Miller, they would’ve lost in regulation. He is one of the few forwards to play with a physical edge consistently. He also is quite skilled as assists 33 and 34 point out to go with his 22 goals. He needs four more points to reach 60 for the first time in his career. The Rangers have four games left. It would be nice to see him get it. If he doesn’t win the Steven McDonald Award, there should be an investigation. No disrespect to Antti Raanta, Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner (now firing blanks).
Making a third consecutive start, Henrik Lundqvist was mostly good throughout. Yes, he did allow the predictable Crosby goal where he banks the puck off the goalie catching them leaning. But he made up for it with a lot of big saves. After the Rangers got seven of the game’s first eight shots, the Pens took over. They out-shot them 14-1 the rest of the first period. It really was that lopsided. Helped by consecutive minor penalties to Mika Zibanejad and Kreider, they were all over the Rangers zone and Lundqvist, who turned away Crosby and Co. plenty of times. His best work coming from his knees when he denied Crosby twice.
The Rangers quickly fell behind 2-0 in the second. First, returning rookie Jake Guentzel took a pass from Crosby and beat Lundqvist for a tap in. Girardi was beaten on the play which I’m sure delighted his detractors. This fanbase is a joke. He did make some good defensive plays in the first. Particularly on the penalty kill which went three for three.
Derek Stepan got the best chances against Matt Murray. His line with the cohesive Kreider and Mats Zuccarello was by far the best. They were because they actually got the puck deep and retrieved it. They didn’t play into the Pens, who stood up at the blue line taking away their team speed and stretch pass. The Stepan line forechecked vigorously and worked for their shots. They were consistent throughout.
Still trailing by one, Crosby did what he does. Coming out with the puck from behind the net, he intentionally threw it at the back of Lundqvist somehow managing to bank it in off the back of his mask to stunned disbelief from the crowd. You can’t teach that. It’s a unique skill. As much as he’s the bad guy, that’s how remarkable his skill level is. The goal was his league-leading 43rd coming at 10:46 from Conor Sheary and Ron Hainsey.
They continued to attack but Lundqvist wouldn’t allow anything else in the period. The Rangers swung the momentum with a couple of good shifts. Eventually, Nash kept the legs moving to earn the team’s first power play. A Mark Streit trip with under two minutes left. Sure enough, Holden was able to get a seeing eye shot through from the point with Buchnevich in front for his 11th. The power play goal was unassisted at 19:33 making it a one-goal contest entering the third.
Buchnevich had a rough game defensively. He left a Pen wide open in the first only to have Lundqvist bail him out. It was also his turnover inside the blue line that led directly to Bryan Rust burying his 14th from Ian Cole at 6:46 increasing the Pittsburgh lead to 3-1. Offensively speaking, Buchnevich is a pleasure to watch creating chances with his speed and skill. Defensively, he needs work.
The Rangers showed some heart in this one. In a game where Stepan went all out to block a shot in the first hobbling to the bench, he returned for the next shift. That is the kind of determination he has. It’s why I want to hold onto him even with the no move clause kicking in this summer. He always brings a strong work ethic. He’s been one of the team’s best players lately despite not having a whole lot of luck. He had a three-game goal streak snapped.
It was Girardi getting the puck to Miller, who carried the puck over the Pens line and went around the D and found Nash for a one-timer past Murray for his 23rd at 8:50 to cut the deficit to one. That kind of yeoman effort is how they played down the stretch. Unwilling to go down easily like last year, they finally got the break they needed. It came off some extra hustle with a Holden point shot getting deflected in front by Miller off Murray into traffic. Kreider was parked in front and buried the rebound at 19:48 to loud cheers. That’s what it takes.
The 3-on-3 overtime was something to behold. It was fascinating. Each team going for it with end to end rushes that had the crowd on its feet. It was heart pumping. Somehow, nobody scored. Lundqvist denied Guentzel, who crashed into him with nowhere to go. He was okay. Murray flat out robbed Grabner on a 3-on-0 when Klein passed across for him. Murray anticipated it and kicked it out. A fantastic save. That’s how it’s gone for Grabner who stayed with the play and got the puck to Kevin Hayes. Hayes fired wide as the buzzer sounded.
In the shootout, Phil Kessel pulled off a nice deke and went five-hole on Lundqvist in Round 2. Murray stopped Zibanejad and Zuccarello in the first two rounds. Crosby came in and went to the backhand with a nasty shot thru the wickets to clinch it for the Pens.
Lundqvist expressed disappointment afterwards on not getting it done again on home ice. But he was very good finishing with 32 saves. Much sharper than the first two starts in his return. Murray had 30 saves for the Pens.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-J.T. Miller, Rangers (2 assists-33, 34 on Nash and Kreider goals in 3rd, 3 shots, 8 attempts, 3 takeaways, +2 in 26 shifts-17:28)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (32 saves including 15/15 in 1st)
1st Star-Sidney Crosby, Pens (NHL-leading 43rd goal, assist, shootout clincher, 10 attempts, +1 in 25 shifts-21:00)
Notes: Shots were 35-33 Pens. Attempts were 69-67 Rangers. … Key Stat: Giveaways Pens 9 (Cole, Crosby 2) Rangers 16 (Holden 3). … Blocked shots were 22-18 Pens led by Cole’s 4. Klein and Holden each had three for the Blueshirts. … NYR had a good night on face-offs winning 40-of-70 (57 percent) led by Hayes (12-and-6). The Pens were led by who else but Crosby (14-and-14). … Rangers next host the Flyers Sunday. The second to last chance to end the losing streak (0-5-3). The final one will come against these Pens on April 9.
In the wildcard race, the Islanders stayed alive by posting a 2-1 win over the Devils in Brooklyn. A game marred by lopsided officiating in the Isles’ favor. John Tavares left the contest late with a lower body injury having to do with his leg. That could spell doom. The Isles trail the Bruins by four points for the final wildcard with five left. … Columbus fell at Chicago 3-1. They remain at 106 points for second place. One ahead of Pittsburgh. At last check, Washington was losing at Arizona 6-3. They lead the league with 110 points. The Blackhawks have 107. … Rangers are up to 98. Ten ahead of Boston.
Rick Nash on the play of Lundqvist and the team rallying:
Dan Girardi discusses Lundqvist and the back and forth nature of the game:
Lundqvist analyzes the game along with the remarkable Crosby, who scored off his mask: