NEW YORK – The Rangers were just a step slow Monday night at Madison Square Garden, a 3-1 sandblasting by Pittsburgh that really didn’t ever seem that close.
Maybe it was the fatigue of playing their sixth game in ten days. Maybe it was the difficulty most teams have when playing their first home game after a long road trip. Maybe, Pittsburgh is just faster and better.
Whatever it was, New York was just unable to keep the Penguins away from their brand of hockey. Pittsburgh sped through the neutral zone with impunity, scoring two goals on odd-man rushes in a span of 1:15 of the second period to break it open.
“Really for probably about eight to ten minutes of that second period that’s where we struggled,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “They’re a good enough team to capitalize in those situations. We gave up some odd-man rushes, bad change cost us a goal, so that eight-ten-11 minutes of the second period was the worst part of our game.”
Pittsburgh’s game is an inherently offensive one. It’s a game that thrives when they’re able to motor through neutral, get an odd-man-rush, and force the defense into compromising situations.
“They’re really good through that neutral zone,” said Ryan Callahan. “When those guys are flying, leaving the zone, it’s tough to contain them. We battled hard to get back in it, got a push at the end, but it just wasn’t enough.”
“For that short stretch there, 10 minutes in the second, our D were back, and I think that’s because our forwards weren’t coming back,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “There was a big gap, which gave them opportunities to make chips and make plays. It’s not a secret. They got some damn good hockey players over there, guys that can make plays and hurt you if you play that way.”
The Rangers, who essentially held Pittsburgh at bay in the 1st period, allowed two goals in 75 seconds of the second period when Kris Letang wristed the puck past Lundqvist at 12:01 off a brilliant cross-ice pass from Sidney Crosby, and Chris Conner did the same off a three-on-two break at 13:16.
“In that middle part of the second period, we’re too deep with our third guy,” Tortorella said. “We’re trying to crawl back into it, we’re trying to force them, and they did a lot of flipping and flying the zone. They indirected a lot of pucks. They’re a good team. We lost our third guy on some pinches, and I thought we overcommitted, we were three flat in their end zone and they just threw it by us.”
The other 40 minutes weren’t terrible – New York played right with Pittsburgh in the first and third. But all it takes against a good team is one mistake.
The Rangers made three. Game over.
Crosby’s dirty tactics?
Fifteen minutes into the first period, Callahan was called for an interference penalty when he and Pens star captain Sidney Crosby both tumbled to the ice. Replays seemed to indicate Crosby slew-footed Callahan on the play by swiping Callahan’s feet out from under him.
During the first intermission, Dubinsky was interviewed on the MSG Network telecast of the game. “It was a dirty play,” Dubinsky told MSG’s Al Trautwig. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
“How many penalty minutes do I have this year, if I’m that dirty?,” Crosby asked in the post-game Penguins locker room. “I mean, please. Show me all those dirty plays. It’s a battle and he falls. I think Dubi has done his fair share of things out there that are questionable. I guess he’s talking again. But I’m not surprised.”
“Yeah, absolutely. I thought he kicked my feet out from under me,” Callahan said. “I’m not sure what the ref saw, but he called what he saw.”
“It’s not something we’re going to dwell on. I don’t want to turn this into anything more than it really is. I’m not going to sit here and talk about Sidney Crosby because I don’t really care what he’s doing, and I don’t care really what he does on the ice.”
“It’s a battle. He’s holding me going up ice and I’m trying to push him off. Is it that calculated? I’m trying to get to the net,” Crosby said. “I’m not worried about that kind of thing. If I tripped him, I tripped him. Am I a dirty hockey player? Come on. I think Dubi is smarter than that.”