Sometimes, it isn’t a question of effort. It was there for the Rangers, who outplayed the Penguins for large stretches in their first meeting since a memorable first round series.
Ultimately, it came down to special teams. The Pens were better where it counted and got 26 saves from Tristan Jarry in a hard fought 3-2 win over the Rangers before 18,005 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
The tough one-goal defeat put an end to their seven-game winning streak. However, the mood following the game was far from somber. Truthfully, they played well enough to win. It just didn’t happen. They can take something from this game and hopefully use it to finally solve the hated rival Islanders tomorrow night before the Christmas break.
“There’s that one stretch in the second that comes back to bite us. That’s a good team over there. They don’t need anymore help with their transition game and we gave them a little help there. And kinda shot ourselves in the foot. Basically lost the special teams battle. They have a good team. A good power play,” said Kreider after erasing a three-game goal drought by scoring both goals for the Rangers in the loss.
“A pretty tight game. It could’ve gone either way. Especially if I capitalize on some of those chances I had.”
He was likely referring to a great shorthanded bid when the game was even late in the second period. With Sammy Blais off for an undisciplined roughing minor on Brock McGinn, Mika Zibanejad came on a two-on-one rush with Kreider. He passed across for a Kreider shot that Jarry got across and made a big save on.
After that key stop, the Pens came down and scored their second straight power play goal with only 13 seconds left in the period. As time was winding down, Bryan Rust was able to tip in a Pierre-Olivier Joseph shot past Igor Shesterkin to give them the lead.
Before they took advantage of consecutive minors on K’Andre Miller (interference) and Blais, who never saw the ice again for the third after his sloppy penalty as described by Gerard Gallant to Mollie Walker, it was mostly all Blueshirts during the first part of the rivalry game.
In fact, on the game’s opening shift, Kreider had a centering feed for Vincent Trocheck accidentally deflect off a Penguin past Jarry just 22 seconds in to open the scoring. It was a stunning start that quieted the pro Pens crowd.
In an evenly played first period where both goalies were good, Shesterkin was a little better. He stopped all seven shots he saw. After Jarry gave up the fluky goal to Kreider, he turned aside the next seven shots. They each were sharp as one would expect from two of the league’s best netminders.
If there was a difference, it was the Rangers’ inability to score on the power play. They twice failed to capitalize on the man-advantage up a goal during the first. Facing a strong Pens penalty kill that was aggressive by attacking the points, they didn’t test Jarry much.
There also was some hesitation from Zibanejad that was frustrating to watch. He passed up on at least three wide open shots. Instead, he over passed. A tendency that gets this team in trouble. When they’re instinctive, the puck moves better and they get shots through. Zibanejad didn’t have the best night.
Near the conclusion of the second power play, Kaapo Kakko passed up an open look from the right circle. Instead of shooting the puck with a chance to score, he made a low percentage pass down low for Alexis Lafreniere who was behind the Pittsburgh net. It made no sense.
As the game went on, there were a few notable things that didn’t make sense. Such as Vitaly Kravtsov having his ice time cut by Gallant following a good shift at the start of the third when he was bumped up to the top line with Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. He never saw another shift.
Neither did having Jonny Brodzinski out for a shift with just under two minutes left in regulation seem to be logical. It’s not like anyone would ask the coach for his reasoning. He makes these decisions. He tried some different combinations in the third once the team fell behind on three straight Pittsburgh goals.
When they weren’t taking advantage on the five-on-four by going 0 for 3, the Rangers were busy hitting the goalpost. Three different times, they rang shots off the bar that must’ve sounded delightful to Jarry.
That included one from Pittsburgh native Trocheck, who sure seems to be unlucky. After Jimmy Vesey had a shot clang off the post, Trocheck was denied in front by Jarry on a good power play opportunity. One of the few they had.
At the end of the first, Kakko got off a final shot that Jarry shrugged aside with under five seconds to go. It concluded a good period. The Rangers seemed to come on with their cycle game. They continued to get pucks in deep and have puck possession for good chunks of the second.
On one shift where they had sustained pressure, it looked like they’d increase their lead. But it never materialized due to Jarry. There would be a third goalpost struck when Filip Chytil had a wrist shot beat Jarry only to be rejected by the iron.
That’s how the game went. The Blueshirts could’ve easily been up three or four goals. They didn’t have any puck luck. When Jarry started locking in and denied Panarin and then booing target Jacob Trouba, it was clearly obvious what would happen.
I’ve seen too many games where one team looks firmly in control. However, they never get the all important second goal to extend the lead. Usually due to the opposing goalie and some close calls. In Tuesday night’s case, the goalpost. Once the opponent finds their way into it, they usually tie the game and turn it around. Exactly what transpired.
After Jarry stopped Miller on a tricky low backhand to get a stoppage, the Pens ramped it up. On a Evgeni Malkin rush and pass in front, Jason Zucker missed wide with an open net. Then, Malkin just had a tip-in go wide. You got the sense that they were going to tie it following that shift.
The physicality also picked up. Rickard Rakell sent Chytil flying behind his own net. He didn’t have his head up. Lucky for him he didn’t get hurt. Chytil has to do a better job staying alert. That was a great open ice hit by Rakell, who was a factor in the Pens’ comeback. That got the fans back into the game.
Rakell would also drive to the net and draw an interference minor on Miller. That sent the Penguins to the power play. Less than a minute later with Rakell perfectly screening Shesterkin, Malkin scored a power play goal. His shot went high glove with Shesterkin unable to track it due to Rakell. That tied the score with 5:36 remaining.
Buoyed by the tying goal, the Pens continued to come. They finally pressed the attack and were more aggressive around the Rangers net. Following a wide shot from Rakell, Shesterkin denied Jake Guentzel one on one with a pad stop on a backhand. There was no coverage from either Ryan Lindgren or Adam Fox.
After McGinn suckered Blais into a dumb retaliation roughing penalty with 1:51 left, here went Zibanejad and Kreider. But Jarry was ready for the pass across. He knew Zibanejad would move the puck and made the save on Kreider look easy. It was momentum turning. Instead of a potential shorthanded goal that could’ve put them ahead late in the period, the Pens came back down and scored.
On a Zucker pass, Joseph let go of a shot that an unchecked Rust got a piece of to redirect it by Shesterkin at 19:47. That quickly, the Pens led 2-1 after two periods.
For the first three-plus minutes of the third, the Rangers were lethargic. They were out-worked and out-hustled by the Pens, who were more effective on the forecheck. They looked like the hungrier team.
Once they got going, the Rangers had some chances to tie it. But Jarry stopped Panarin from the outside and stoned Kreider in tight to keep his team ahead. He was the story.
On what can best be described as a great scoring play in transition, Crosby got behind both Miller and Trouba to bury his 18th at 8:40 to extend the Pittsburgh lead to 3-1. He took a Guentzel backdoor feed and went backhand on Shesterkin for the crucial goal with 11:20 remaining.
Following a Shesterkin stop on Rust, the Rangers found their way back in. On a play started by Brodzinski up for Trocheck, he skated wide and sent a perfect pass by a diving Penguin over for a quick Kreider one-timer that beat Jarry to make it 3-2 with 9:57 left.
It gave Kreider the team lead in goals with 16. One more than Zibanejad, who’s without a goal in his last six. Hopefully, that changes when the Islanders visit MSG.
On a dominant shift by Zibanejad, Panarin and Barclay Goodrow, who was back on the first line replacing Kravtsov, they did everything but tie it. They cycled the puck. They moved it around. The Pens were on their heels. But Fox sent his wrist shot high and over the net. He also went wide on another try. If he hits the net on either, it’s probably a tie game.
With Gallant cutting down to three lines sans Blais and Kravtsov, he worked Brodzinski in and even had Vesey on with Chytil and Lafreniere for a shift. Once it got down to the final five minutes, he went mostly with Lindgren and Fox along with Miller and Trouba, even loading up with Miller and Fox late.
Maybe the biggest play of the final couple of minutes was made by who else but Crosby. Sensing an opportunity to attack Miller, he came after him. Miller lost control of the puck to Crosby, who is just so damn good. That steal led to two bids by Rakell that Shesterkin handled to give the Rangers a chance.
Jarry stopped both Chytil and Zibanejad with the latter off a good shot that he made a nice glove save on. The save of the game.
With under 45 seconds left, an on-rushing Zibanejad had a step on Brian Dumoulin. It looked like he’d be in one on one with Jarry. However, a diving Dumoulin went for the stick check.
While initially the one replay MSG showed seemed to indicate that Dumoulin made a great play to deny Zibanejad, replays afterwards confirmed that he indeed got the skate of Zibanejad to trip him up. That was a critical missed call.
Gallant wasn’t pleased. When asked about it afterwards, he pointed out that either it’s a trip on the Penguins or interference on the Rangers. Either way, there should’ve been a call made.
Regardless, we don’t know what would’ve happened. The power play drove fans nuts all game. They would’ve had a six-on-four with 43 ticks left. You never know.
Following a face-off between Trocheck and Jeff Carter, Zibanejad got a long slap shot on Jarry that he handled. With the six Rangers desperately moving the puck around searching for any opening, the Pens were physical. They made it difficult for the Rangers to get shots.
A Panarin final try was turned aside by Jarry and cleared. That’s how it ended. The Pens earned the win. It was a well played game. So, you won’t see me complain. Those are the type of games you want to see.
Now, it’s onto the Islanders. I don’t have to say anything. So, I won’t.
THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️
3rd 🌟 Sidney Crosby, Pens game-winner (18) plus 🍎, 11-7 on draws in 19:01
2nd 🌟 🤩 Chris Kreider, NYR 2 goals (15, 16), 5 SOG, +1 in 19:59
1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Tristan Jarry, Pens 26 saves on 28 shots incl. 9/10 in 3rd for 7th straight win