NEW YORK – The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins gave a taste of the playoffs and it took extra time to figure it out. Sidney Crosby ended it at the 4:30 of the overtime period and the Penguins defeated the Rangers 3-2 in what could be a potential playoff series.
If you wanted a potential playoff preview between these two teams then you got it. A tightly defended game was one that had the Blueshirt faithful at their edge of their seats.
Both teams entered the game playing in their second game of a back-to-back and both matched intensity and speed out of the gate. It was the Rangers that had the slight upper hand to start the game. It took four minutes and a turnover created by Kevin Hayes, who for a brief time barely saw ice time, make a play to push the puck ahead to Eric Staal. With one hand on the stick Staal got the puck in the net and the Rangers were up 1-0.
A theme we tend to see is former Rangers coming into Madison Square Garden and getting back at them. This time it was Penguins forward Matt Cullen. Cullen got the equalizer and closed the first frame tied at 1.
Period two started the way the first started. The Rangers were the stronger team. The line that head coach Alain Vigneault put together and has seen potential stepped up once more. Hayes and Jesper Fast playing with Staal has seemed to work. The line struck again with Hayes setting up Staal for the 2-1 lead.
The Rangers sorely miss the speed of Carl Hagelin and he showed it by setting Phil Kessel up for the tying goal and the seesaw match continued. Forty minutes gone and the game tied once more.
In period three, both teams traded chances but came up empty, that was until a penalty in the closing seconds of regulation by Derek Brassard put the garden faithful on edge.
The extra time had the Rangers killing off a penalty and tried to swing the momentum. A timeout taken by Pittsburgh with an offensive zone faceoff in the final minute proved to be the deciding factor. The Rangers countered with two forwards and one defensemen instead of two Ds and it cost them. A shot from the point by Leteng was deflected by Sidney Crosby that knocked off Mats Zuccarello ended the game.
The mood in the Rangers lcokeroom was still a positive one. When asked about the game the head coach was pleased. “I really thought it was a hard fought game. Two teams going at each other real hard. Two teams that rely on transition to generate offense. Top players going hard head to head against one another. It was a good battle I thought.”
The one glaring positive Vigneault really liked was the line of Hayes, Fast and Staal. “I thought Hazy’s [Kevin Hayes] line was real good tonight. They generated the most of our opportunities and scoring chances. I thought him and Eric and Quickie [Jesper Fast] had a real good night.”
Staal who picked up the only two Ranger goals talked about playing with his new linemates. “I think that is what we are looking for. Obviously we are looking for a check mark and then putting ourselves in the playoffs. But at the end of the day we are looking for flow and balance and comfort and giving ourselves the best chance to win every night. And I think that’s what AV [Vigneault] is looking to do.”
The Rangers are playing well and getting hot at the right time. They will have some needed days off before a reunion for Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes. The mood won’t be dampened by defeat because they grabbed a point and with the quote by Mats Zuccarello “(expletive) happens” ringing through, the Rangers seem to be moving along just fine and they continue to push for the playoffs.
The Rangers have earned at least one point in 17 of their last 21 home games (14-4-3)
The Blueshirts have registered the first goal of the game in 41 contests this season and have posted a 31-5-5 record in those games.
Jesper Fast has established career-highs in goals (10), assists (18), and points (28) this season