NEW YORK – With how few wins the Rangers have gotten on the ice recently, perhaps a victory in the mind will serve as an elixir.
There were moral victories to take out of the Rangers shootout loss to the East’s best team. While Pittsburgh was missing 11 key regulars to injury or suspension, New York closed off the Penguins offense for a majority of the game.
Even when the Penguins (25-10-1) scored two goals in 61 seconds early in the third period to take a 3-1 lead, the Rangers (16-17-2) battled back, scoring the game-tying goal with 1:46 left in the third period.
It was enough to save a point for the Rangers, but they could get no more when Penguins forward Brandon Sutter scored the only goal of the shootout in the fifth round as Pittsburgh edged the Rangers, 4-3.
“You do have to think you lost, because we did – we didn’t get two points,” said Brad Richards. “At the same time, they score one goal out of five shooters, we get zero. When it gets down to that, it’s anybody’s game. We come back for those two points, we didn’t fold the tent and pack it in.”
“We’d definitely like to win a game in regulation; get a lead and hang onto it, instead of battling back every time,” said Dan Girardi, who struggled defensively throughout the game. “At this point, we need to grasp any point we can.”
The Rangers had their chances in overtime. Just 14 seconds into the extra session, Chris Kunitz cut to the net and bowled over Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was quickly tended to by the team’s trainer, Jim Ramsey. While Lundqvist stayed in the game, Kunitz was sent to the penalty box, giving the Rangers a four-on-three power play for two minutes.
The Rangers put four shots on Marc-Andre Fleury (29 saves) during the man-advantage and had two others either blocked or sail wide.
“We were throwing a lot of stuff there,” Richards said of the unsuccessful power play. “Some of the shots, pucks were bouncing all over the place on the ice, couldn’t get it settled down. The game’s on the line, you always want those.”
“Anytime a guy goes down you don’t want to see that,” Stepan said. “You just do whatever you can to try to find a way to get one in the back of the net and capitalize on that opportunity.”
Still, the team was encouraged by the compete level down two goals with eight minutes left. They shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place, but at least the team that’s scored three goals just 15 times this season didn’t crumble.
“It’s always nice to come back like that,” said Mats Zuccarello, who had the goal that brought the Rangers within one with 7:17 left. “We didn’t play as I thought we should play the first two periods. We played an OK game, but not good enough offensively. Third period we came out strong, get two goals, that’s really good character. Obviously it’s disappointing now, but it’s nice to at least get that point.
“A loss is a loss. It’s a big point, especially down two goals in the third. It’s a big point, you take that as a positive. The end of the day you want to go get the other one, but that’s not the case,” said Stepan. “My opinion of this group in this locker room hasn’t changed. We’re a very resilient team with a lot of character.”
“I just hate losing in the shootout,” said Lundqvist (29 saves). “I always say as a goalie you play a big part. Even though I’m happy with the point, right now we need two. I’ll watch tape tomorrow and see what I can do better. I was happy with the way I played the game, and the way we played as a group. We did a lot of good things.”
The Rangers fell to 2-15-1 when allowing the game’s first goal, while Pittsburgh is 20-2-0 when scoring first this season.
Penguins goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff have stopped all ten shootout attempts they’ve faced this season, allowing the team to win all three shootouts it has participated in.
Since being scratched by the Rangers on October 24, Mats Zuccarello leads the team with 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists).