Arriving on Seventh Avenue last night, losers of four consecutive contests, the Penguins looked more like a bottom-feeder team than defending Stanley Cup champions.
That, however, was before the opening puck-drop at The Garden. The host Rangers had returned from a three-game West Coast expedition that left them with three out of a possible six points. Not terrific, but not bad either.
Unfortunately, the results were hardly gratifying for A.V. despite a final seconds third period tying goal by Chris Kreider. That led to a scoreless overtime segment followed by the 4-3 Penguins victory the shootout route.
OVERVIEW: This was a big one point considering that Pittsburgh had the better of play overall and the Blueshirts 11th-hour comeback late in the third produced overtime and finally the shootout. Once again, Rick Nash demonstrated that he’s playoff-ready with a third period goal followed by Kreider’s red light that signaled overtime. More importantly, Lundqvist moved closer to A-1 shape with a strong performance.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
1. GIVING UP THE FIRST GOAL: As Kreider’s first period tripping penalty expired, Jake Guentzel finished a tic-tac-toe passing play with Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel to make it 1-0. Fighting from behind against the defending Stanley Cup champs never is a prescription for success.
2. TOO MANY PENALTIES: New York took three penalties in the first 21:49 of the contest. The Penguins created chances, but Lundqvist was there to shut the door. The Pens’ first goal came at the end of a Rangers penalty.
3. OUTRACED BY CROSBY, INC.: After the Blueshirts took seven of the first eight shots of the game, the Penguins outshot the Rangers 18-1 from near the end of the first period and into the second. Pittsburgh used its speed to start rushes and took advantage of the Blueshirts defense. It showed again on Pitt’s second goal. Dan Girardi was late to pick up Crosby and Crosby banked a shot off Lundqvist to make it 2-0.
4. THE MCDONAGH GAP: Without Captain Ryan, New York’s defense looked slow and Pittsburgh made it pay by scoring the first two goals. Then Nick Bonino was left open in the goal that made it 3-1. At times, the game was reminiscent of the playoff series last spring. The Penguins weren’t allowing the Rangers to do much, while the visitors exploited mistakes.
6. GARDEN STRUGGLES: With the loss, the Rangers have failed to pick up a win in their last eight games at The World’s Most Famous Arena.
7. NO LUCK IN THE SHOOTOUT: After an exciting overtime, where both goalies excelled, Kessel and Crosby beat Lundqvist in the skills competition. Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello missed for the Blueshirts.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
1. KING COMING ON STRONG: Lundqvist’s challenge to reach top form before the playoffs gained traction as he played another strong game; minus the shootout.
2. NIFTY NASH: Big Rick appears to be putting more good games back-to-back than we’ve seen in a long time and another one was evident on Friday night.
3. PUSH BACK: For a time, it seemed as if the Penguins would simply dominate by significant puck possession. Yet time and again, the Rangers pushed back and gained the point on Kreider’s late tally.
BEST RANGERS SAVE: With seven and a half minutes left in the third period, Lundqvist stopped Conor Sheary on a breakaway. Sheary tried to fool Lundqvist top shelf, but Hank was there to deny him and keep the Rangers down just one goal.
BEST RANGERS GOAL: With 11.6 seconds left in the game, Kreider banged home his 27th goal of the season, knotting the score at three. The Rangers looked down and out after a late power play went by with nothing created. But, in a furious attack, the Rangers finally created second, third and fourth chances and it resulted in the game-tying goal by Kreider.
The shootout. A.V. dispatched his two best artists, Zuccarello and Zbanejad and they struck out. Neither Crosby nor Kessel failed for Pitt.
WHAT THEY SAID:
1. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We played a strong game five-on-five. We were down by two and kept pushing. Hank gave us a chance; he made some huge saves. When it goes to a Shootout anything can happen.”
2. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “The last couple of games have been a good test for us as a team and for me. Starting with me, it needs to be a really good effort to get the win. It’s moving in the right direction.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Next up is a home date with the Flyers on Sunday.
GAME TIME: 7:30 p.m. TV: Postgame coverage on MSG Network.
BOTTOM LINE: This is fix-the-flaws time for Vigneault and it only cost him a shootout point. I’ll be very surprised if the Blueshirts fail to win at home against Philly.