When I saw this game on the schedule, I knew what to expect. The Penguins have been red hot lately. Even the two consecutive road wins the Rangers had over the Predators and Blues to end last year, didn’t mean anything. They were out played by the Blues badly with only Henrik Lundqvist bailing them out for a 2-1 win.
When you face an explosive rival such as the Pens, you’re not gonna get away with it. Sadly, the Rangers played the Penguins on even terms through a scoreless first period. The roof caved in literally in the second period. They were outscored 4-1 by the Pittsburgh machine. As I was taking in the wild conclusion of Finland stunning Canada 2-1 in the World Junior Championship quarters, I kept getting text updates with Pittsburgh goals. They came in with rapid fire over the final two periods- turning a competitive game into a 7-2 blowout over the Rangers at MSG on national TV.
Why the executives at NBCSN thought it was a good idea to show our team against the Pens is inexplicable. I guess it’s similar to NHL Network not at least providing a scoring update of Finland’s dramatic overtime win over Canada during the second period of USA’s 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Czech Republic.
On a day they revealed that Henrik Lundqvist would represent our team at the All-Star Game in the four division format, he had what he claimed was his “worst game.” It wasn’t all his fault. These things happen. It didn’t take long for the Rangers to implode in the second period. Consecutive goals from Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel (off Marc Staal) made it 2-0. A dreadful turnover at the Rangers blueline allowed Kris Letang to score his ninth unassisted with a clear path shot by Lundqvist over a minute later.
Ryan Strome temporarily stopped the Pens’ momentum with a neat deflection of a Brady Skjei point shot 26 seconds later to make it 3-1. But that was short-lived. Less than three minutes later, Dominik Simon finished off his fifth from Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist for a 4-1 Pittsburgh lead.
There were so many blown assignments in last night’s forgettable game. Even the normally reliable Kevin Hayes was late picking up Simon on his goal. Staal was on for two goals against with partner Neal Pionk. Though the Guentzel tally was unlucky due to Staal doing his job covering Bryan Rust, only to have the puck go off his stick and in.
That’s what happens when you lose badly. It wasn’t their night. I couldn’t understand why Lundqvist was left in for the start of the third. Interestingly, he took most of the blame for the six goals he let in on 18 shots, indicating the the team didn’t play that badly. They led in shots 24-15 after two periods. However, coach David Quinn took him off the hook by blaming himself for keeping Lundqvist in. He even went as far as to say he shouldn’t have played him due to all the saves he made the previous two games. That kind of accountability from both coach and star player is commendable.
Unfortunately, Lundqvist was victimized for two more before giving way to backup Alexandar Georgiev (6 saves on 7 shots). He had Malkin bang into him after his weird shot went by him to make it 5-1 just 63 seconds into the third. Even though Pavel Buchnevich got it back with his seventh only 19 seconds later on a rebound of a Fredrik Claesson shot, the nightmare wasn’t over. Tanner Pearson ended Lundqvist’s night with a power play goal from Letang and Guentzel at 4:40. It was a unscreened shot that whizzed by our poor goalie. Yikes.
Sidney Crosby closed out the scoring by beating three guys to a spot for a rebound past Georgiev for his 19th. It was bad. Much earlier in the contest when it was scoreless, he slew footed Jesper Fast for a tripping minor and complained about it. I don’t get why.
Filip Chytil returned and was minus-two with three shots. Jimmy Vesey was a healthy scratch along with Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith.
The Rangers will burn the DVD of this one. They now hit the road. Colorado is up first on Saturday. The same night as the gold medal game in Vancouver. I think you know which one I’ll be watching. Some of our prospects could be playing in the championship game. Vitali Kravtsov has been a standout player for Russia, who posted a blowout win over Slovakia to set up a must see semifinal against USA tomorrow. The other semifinal is surprising Switzerland, who upset Sweden 2-0, against Finland.
Tune into NHL Network for both games.