With a two-goal lead and the Pittsburgh Penguins minus their two best players -- and without a third key player for the entire third period -- the New York Rangers certainly had the ingredients for a decisive home victory to start the second half of the season. Instead, they have to settle for just one point, as they gave up three-straight second-period goals, came back to tie and ultimately lost in the seventh round of the shootout, 4-3, at the hands of the East's fourth-place Penguins.
The Penguins, playing without Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (sinus infection) for the entire game -- and Jordan Staal (match penalty) from the latter half of the second period onward, fell down early to a Rangers squad that finally is getting their pieces back together again. WIth a hard-working effort from the Wojtek Wolski-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line, Prust cashed in on a loose puck at the crease to put the Rangers up 1-0. The Blueshirts didn't play particularly well (and John Tortorella noted that in his in-period interview), but they had a lead heading into the first intermission.
Artem Anisimov doubled the lead not even two minutes into the first period, with Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik recording assists on the play.
But then the floodgates opened -- corresponding with a Prust-Deryk Engelland evenly fought bout at the 3:17 mark. Dustin Jeffrey scored on a power play about a two minutes later, on a penalty given to Kris Newbury after he elbowed Marc-Andre Fleury. Mike Rupp then cashed in five minutes later and Chris Kunitz about four minutes after that and the Rangers were forced to play their bread-and-butter catch-up game.
After Jordan Staal received a five-minute match penalty for sucker punching Prust in the face at the 15:27, the Rangers finally converted on their long power-play opportunity, with Michael Del Zotto firing a shot from the point that was deflected home by long-lost Ryan Callahan 13 seconds before the buzzer sounded. Besides giving up a two-goal lead, the Rangers' absent power play was the key to this loss. They went 1-for-6 on the man advantage and really failed to generate any consistent pressure or create enough chances. Tortorella is trying everything -- and maybe, just maybe Vinny Prospal's return on Friday gives the abysmal power play a jolt. This team needs to do something new to jumpstart these lackadaisical 5-on-4's.
Neither team would score in the third period, but the Rangers did put on the pressure with an 11-3 shot advantage. After an evenly played overtime period, there would only be one goal scored in the seven rounds. Jeffrey solved Henrik Lundqvist -- and the Rangers really had no close chances (and no real great moves) against Fleury. Sadly, Mats Zuccarello did not continue his perfection in the shootout, and insead is now 4-for-5.
New York next plays against New Jersey, winners of seven of its past nine games, on Thursday.