PITTSBURGH —The penalty kill brought the crowd and the team to life early in the third period, the Penguins sat tied with the New York Rangers at three goals apiece. Kris Letang took the puck into the circle with a great spin move and ripped a shot top shelf as one of the best defenseman in Penguins history earned his second goal in emphatic fashion.
The goal proved instrumental in the Penguins 6-5 win over the New York Rangers.
After a quiet first 16 minutes of play, highlighted by some impressive goalie play from Casey Desmith and Alexandar Georgiev, Kris Letang had some luck go his way.
Letang, while skating along the left boards, sent a backhand pass towards the middle of the ice. The puck then took a favorable Pittsburgh bounce as it ricocheted off the skate of Kevin Shattenkirk and past Georgiev for the first score of the afternoon.
With the goal, Letang extended his point streak to four games with two goals and three assists in that span.
“The consistency of his game is what stands out to me,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s one of the elite defenseman in the league, there’s no doubt about that.”
But after luck put the Penguins on the board, it was misfortune that found a way to even the game back up.
With 1:19 remaining in the first period, a post-whistle altercation initiated by Bryan Rust with Ryan Strome put the Rangers on the powerplay.
The scuffle appeared to be initiated by Strome, who was grabbing Rust while play was still live. Both parties appeared to push and shove after the play with other Rangers players getting involved in the action. But the referees made the decision to just send Rust to the box, much to the displeasure of Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
The Rangers took full advantage of the reversal of fortunes and less than a minute later Mats Zuccarello took the perfect pass from Kevin Shattenkirk to even up the game in Pittsburgh off a one-timer shot.
Penalties plagued the Rangers throughout the second period as New York was sent to the penalty box on three different occasions.
The Penguins had been 3-for-4 in man advantage situations the day before against Calgary but just 1 for their previous 21 before that.
It took until the Penguins third chance of the period and their fourth chance of the day to finally cash in one New York’s mistakes.
Marcus Pettersson scored just his second goal of the season off a perfect feed from Nick Bjugstad and a laser of a shot to give Pittsburgh the lead once again.
Pittsburgh expanded their lead when Brian Dumoulin got himself into the action as yet another Penguins defenseman reached the scoreboard.
“With the way teams defend when the puck is low in the zone underneath the hash marks, most teams collapse coverage,” said Sullivan. “In order to try and spread them out or find some ice to play on a lot of times it is in the top part of the zone.”
Staring at a two-goal deficit, Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers a much needed boost and a quick response to the Dumoulin goal.
Zuccarello got off a shot as a stretching Desmith extended his blocker to make the stop. The puck would squirt out from under Desmith as it crossed the goal line in what seemed like slow motion.
With just enough power on the shot, the Rangers kept close with Pittsburgh as the score sat at 3-2.
The second period scoring continued with 2:15 remaining as Ryan Strome emerged with the puck through the chaos in front of the net and sent the game-tying shot past the sprawling DeSmith to quickly erase the Penguins two-goal lead from just minutes earlier.
A perfect opportunity came for the New York Rangers just at the end of the second period. Sidney Crosby was sent to the penalty box for a four-minute double minor that would put the Penguins on their heels going into the third period.
After allowing a powerplay goal in the first period, the Penguins’ special teams unit responded with their best penalty kill of the night and followed it with the game’s both monumental moment.
Letang’s second goal of the game gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead as they jumped out in front for the third time in the game.
New York had proved to be able to come from behind multiple times before, but the Penguins tacked on a lead that in the third period, was too much for the Rangers.
Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a couple of insurance goals that quickly extended Pittsburgh’s lead to three.
The goals were just two minutes and 31 seconds apart and highlighted by Malkin’s second goal in which a spinning Malkin fired a backhanded shot from the left of Georgiev the flung just over the goalie’s right shoulder.
“Kind of speechless it left me,” said Zac Aston-Reese about Malkin’s highlight reel second goal “When NHL Network is playing top 100 goals of the season I’ll be in the highlight reel.”
In the last two games, Malkin has racked up four goals and an assist.
“We’re really encouraged with where Geno’s game is trending. He’s had a couple of really strong games here…I think that bodes well for us and for him.” said Sullivan.
Malkin’s two goals proved important late in the game as the Rangers tacked on two goals late, refusing to go down easily in Pittsburgh.
But with the Ranger’s fifth goal coming with just 18 seconds remaining, the comeback in Pittsburgh fell short with the final score reading 6-5 in favor of the Penguins.
A much-needed win for the Penguins who going into Sunday’s game sat one point out of playoff position.
More coming from the Penguins locker room.