Despite a simply brilliant 50-save performance in goal by Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers let a two-goal lead slip away and dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Jordan Staal was credited with the game-winning goal for the Penguins. With Pittsburgh skating on the power play after Wade Redden was penalized for hooking at 1:45 of the extra session, Staal redirected Evgeni Malkin’s powerful slap shot past Lundqvist with 1:18 left on the clock for his second goal of the game.
“I thought it was going high,” said Lundqvist. “But it dipped straight down and I had no chance. That’s the way tonight’s game was, lots of deflections and crazy goals.”
The 50 saves by Lundqvist established a new career-high for the Rangers’ star netminder. Earlier this season he stopped 45 shots in a Garden tilt against the New Jersey Devils back on Jan. 12.
“I felt good (making 50 saves), but it doesn’t feel good to let in five goals,” said Lundqvist. “But I am happy we got a point at least.”
Despite the loss, the Rangers did earn an important standings point by going to overtime and are now tied with Montreal and Atlanta for the eighth and final spot. They also hold the tie-breaker over the Canadiens for having played fewer games than the Canadiens, pending the outcome of Montreal’s game at San Jose late Thursday
“At the end of the night we grabbed a point out of here,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Though it was an ugly one, it’s still a point.”
Trailing 4-3 in the third period, the Penguins dominated play, but were held off the scoreboard by Lundqvist, who turned in a splendid period, until Alex Goligoski had his bad-angle centering feed hit Marc Staal’s skate in front and slide over the goal line with 8:01 remaining to play.
It was the second goal Pittsburgh scored on the night that had deflected in off a Rangers’ player in front of his own net. This one came in the midst of a period in which the Rangers recorded their first shot with 4:37 left to play, after Pittsburgh had already peppered Lundqvist with 16 of their own.
The third period ended with Pittsburgh holding a dominating 19-1 advantage in shots. But the Rangers managed to reach overtime riding atop the shoulders of the brilliant Lundqvist.
“They were aggressive and hard on the puck,” Brandon Dubinsky said of the Penguins. “I think we needed to do a better job of getting the pucks out along the walls and relieving some pressure off our defense.”
The Rangers had carried a 4-3 lead into the third period by scoring twice in each of the first two periods, and by connecting twice on the power play.
Michal Rozsival snapped a 2-2 tie by netting his second goal of the season 2:03 into the middle stanza. Olli Jokinen started the play with a steal at the Rangers’ blueline, with his headman pass to Vinny Prospal jumpstarting a 3-on-2 rush the other way. Rozsival received Prospal’s pass at the bottom of the right circle and roofed his shot under the crossbar.
The goal was Rozsival’s first in 38 games, dating back to a Nov. 28 contest in Pittsburgh against these very same Penguins, Rozsival’s first NHL team.
Dubinsky, in the midst of an extremely inspired and passionate effort, gave the Rangers a two-goal advantage by scoring on the power play at 12:49. Dubinsky put his all into a booming left-wing slap shot that beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, hit the far post, and then deflected into the net off of Fleury’s arm.
The goal was Dubinsky’s career-high 15th of the season, second in as many games, and third in the last four contests. It also drove Fleury from the game as Pens coach Dan Bylsma replaced him with Brent Johnson. Fleury surrendered four goals on only 12 shots. Johnson would face only four shots the rest of the game.
Dubinsky’s score was a nice reward for a player who skated hard and played with an edge all night long. Just 4:10 into the match Dubinsky stepped in for Lundqvist, who had confronted Sidney Crosby, for a post-whistle skirmish. And a few minutes before scoring his goal, Dubinsky threw Ruslan Fedotenko to the ice when the Penguins winger was too close to Lundqvist after the whistle had blown.
“Hank is our best player,” said Dubinsky. “We’ve got to make sure we protect him and take care of him. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little thing or a big thing, We’ve got to be in there.”
Mike Rupp brought the Penguins back to within one by converting a Crosby pass off a 2-on-1 rush with 5:37 to go in the 2nd. It was some redemption for Crosby, the Pens captain who was sitting in the penalty box for high-sticking Rozsival at the time of Dubinsky’s goal.
The Rangers opened the scoring 2:17 into play when Artem Anisimov snapped a shot from the left dot past the gloved hand of Fleury for his 10th goal. Sean Avery earned the primary assist with a slick cross-ice feed to the onrushing Anisimov.
Pittsburgh countered with back-to-back scores at 6:03 and 9:58 of the first to take a 2-1 lead. Chris Kunitz potted a rebound to tie the game during a 5-on-3 power play for Pittsburgh, and then Jordan Staal had his bad-angle centering feed bounce off of Lundqvist’s blocker and deflect off the backchecking Brian Boyle and into the net.
However, Chris Drury scored a power play goal at 14:39 to make sure the home team reached the first intermission even on the scoreboard. Camped in front of Fleury, Drury, on his knees, collected the rebound of Michael Del Zotto’s shot, pivoted with his back to the net, and wrapped a shot around Fleury for his 11th goal of the season.
Drury’s score was emblematic of the team’s hard-working approach which was on display during a highly-entertaining first period.
And it was good for the home team to see the rookie Del Zotto once again quarterbacking its power play. Del Zotto returned to the lineup on Thursday for the first time since suffering a 50-stitch skate-blade gash on his torso back on Feb. 12 in a game against Pittsburgh.
“I felt really good,” said Del Zotto after playing more than 18 minutes on Thursday. “I think it was a great decision waiting until today. Obviously it was nice to get back.”
The Rangers will need to put this one behind them quickly as two more difficult games await on the horizon this weekend. First the Rangers face the conference-leading Capitals down in Washington D.C. on Saturday night, and then they skate against the Buffalo Sabres at The Garden on Sunday evening.
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