The Pittsburgh Penguins remained perfect at home in March with their seventh straight win at the Mellon Arena yesterday afternoon defeating the Rangers 3-1; the victory moved them into first place in the Eastern conference with 99 points. The loss put the Rangers in a three way tie for sixth with Boston and Philadelphia; all have 91 points and trail Ottawa by one and the Devils by two.
The Penguins, now on the verge of clinching the Atlantic Division, got goals from Evgeni Malkin (first star) and Marian Hossa after Brandon Dubinsky gave the Rangers an early lead. Sidney Crosby assisted on both of those tallies and was voted the second star. But perhaps the most valuable player for the Pens yesterday was Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 26 shots and kept the Blueshirts off the board for the last 56-plus minutes.
The Rangers had a solid first period and took the early lead on a power-play goal by Dubinsky (his 14th set up by Jaromir Jagr) at 3:03. But just over halfway though the first frame, Marian Hossa evened the score with his 29th thanks to a fortunate carom. Crosby centered the puck toward Pascal Dupuis, but it deflected off his skate and went directly to Hossa, who then fired a shot past a surprised Lundqvist.
With slightly over two minutes left in the period, the Pens took the lead on a five-on-three manpower advantage. Sergei Gonchar fed Malkin, who then ripped a slap shot high over Lundqvist’s glove (his 46th); it was a wicked blast that no netminder would have ever stopped in that situation. Considering the shots on goal for the period favored the Rangers 7-6 and they carried more of the play, going into the locker room down 2-1 was unsatisfactory.
The Blueshirts came out in the second with an ever better effort and outshot the Pens 11-4, but Fleury was too strong. The Rangers killed themselves in this game by taking far too many penalties; they were whistled down for eight minor infractions. Though they were great on the penalty kill, it’s not the way to generate a sustained offensive attack.
In the final period, neither team added to their totals until very late. With only 47 seconds remaining, Maxim Talbot put the game away with his 11th tally of the season. The Rangers were solid again in the last 20 minutes, but came away with a very empty feeling. They played well enough to win in this important match but couldn’t escape their own mistakes.
Fleury finished with 26 saves for the win and Lundqvist took the loss making just 17 stops. The home-and-home concludes tonight at MSG.