As the Penguins reflected on the dizzying ride of their 3-2, overtime loss to the New York Rangers, it was hard to determine exactly which element of the final few minutes of regulation and first few minutes of overtime was the most baffling. Consider:
- with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, New York held a 1-0 lead;
- less than a minute later, Pittsburgh was up, 2-1;
- the Penguins’ first goal wasn’t scored until their 37th shot of the night – and the second on their next shot, just 38 seconds later;
- just 27 seconds after that, the Rangers came back to tie it on a fluky shorthanded goal; and
- the overtime game-winner was scored on an odd-man break that developed because a Pittsburgh defenseman simply fell down.
Until the last few minutes of regulation, in fact, it was looking pretty unlikely that the Penguins would get on the board at all against a razor-sharp Henrik Lundqvist. Pittsburgh outshot New York 12-5 in the opening period, 12-9 in the second, 14-8 in the third. The Penguins got a lopsided six power play opportunities to New York’s none.
And, until the 17:29 mark of the third period, the only thing that had gotten by either team’s netminder was a shot by former Penguin Erik Christensen that deflected off the skate of defenseman Deryk Engelland and past Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Then came a goal by the Penguins’ Chris Kunitz, going top-shelf on Lundqvist after being denied down low on what might have been Pittsburgh’s best chance to that point. Seconds later, a goal by Matt Cooke found its way past the Rangers goalie.
“You put that many pucks on net, you stay that tenacious, eventually it’s going to pay off. And it did for us on back-to-back shifts,” Cooke said.
That tenacity is in keeping with the Penguins’ goal of trusting in their game plan and sticking with it regardless of the score, said head coach Dan Bylsma.
“Going into the third period, I stressed that this is the type of game we’re going to have to be comfortable playing,” Bylsma said. “They got the first goal; we’re going to have to keep plugging away, stay focused on our game and be resilient.
“And, getting the tying goal and the go-ahead goal to make it 2-1, you feel at that point like you’ve learned a real good lesson by sticking with your game plan and not getting discouraged. We stayed focused and we got a huge goal just the way we thought we were going to have to get it, which was crashing the net, second chance, the goalie on his back and getting a rebound.”
After the second Pittsburgh goal, Lundqvist, frustrated with the officiating, smashed his stick, threw the remains and earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But the Penguins’ anemic power play – which had managed just one shot on goal in a full four-minute advantage earlier in the contest – this time made the mistake of looking for a shot instead of running down the clock.
With Lundqvist pulled, the Rangers got control of the puck, came down the other end and defenseman Marc Staal fired a shot that hit Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang’s stick, Fleury’s shoulder and, to the goaltender’s recollection, two posts.
“The mindset going over the boards for the power play was that we wanted to get in, get set up and kill the time, pass it around,” Bylsma said. “And we went out and didn’t take that opportunity. We tried to shoot the puck, we hit a skate, it goes the other way … and it ends up in the back of our net.”
The game headed to overtime and, just past the three-minute mark, New York got the odd-man break when Penguins blueliner Zbynek Michalek inexplicably fell in the neutral zone. Two young Rangers power forwards went two-on-one with Penguins defender Paul Martin and made the most of it as Brandon Dubinsky waited out Martin, who went down to block the shot, froze Fleury, then dished the puck to Ryan Callahan, who was waiting alongside the net with all the room in the world to put it home.
“The guys played very strong defensively the whole game. Just a bad break, and they got a two-on-one,” said Fleury. “Tough way to lose a game.”
Especially after Pittsburgh had spent most of the evening doing a lot of things right.
“We’ve talked about playing a certain way, minimizing the other team’s chances, and we’ve done a real good job of that,” Bylsma said. “We kept them, by our count, to nine scoring chances, and that’s the recipe we’re looking for. And our chances were way, way up there, and their goaltender played really well.”
That’s why the Penguins plan to stick with what worked against the Rangers – for the most part, anyway – when the Vancouver Canucks make a rare visit to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
“A lot of good things from that game,” Bylsma said. “We have to take our lessons, we have to get better in some areas, and we talked about the situations that cost us there at the end. But, at the same time, that’s how we’re looking to play for a 60-minute game.”