The Pittsburgh Penguins lost three of four games in the season series against the New York Rangers and scored just four goals. The Penguins were again smothered by the Rangers. The Rangers sent a crystal clear playoff message and beat the Penguins 3-0 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin stopped all 30 shots he faced. Tristan Jarry made 21 saves on 23 shots.
The Penguins fourth line tackled the Rangers top line at the final horn. Defenseman Mark Friedman set off a melee by popping Chris Kreider but there were no fighting majors.
The Penguins did not leave the ice for a few minutes and had a few more words for the Blueshirts, which delayed the Rangers’ usual center-ice celebration.
The teams are on a collision course for Round One. With the win, the Rangers tied the Carolina Hurricanes atop the Metro Division, but Carolina has a game in hand and the tiebreaker.
The Penguins had just the right amount of adversity to begin the game. In warmups, the team announced that captain Sidney Crosby, defenseman John Marino, and Radim Zohorna were out with a non-COVID illness. Filip Hallander was an emergency recall Thursday afternoon and made his NHL debut on the fourth line with Brian Boyle, and WBS Penguins recall Anthony Angello.
“In the morning, we kind of noticed that they weren’t in there. So, you know, it’s part of it. We have guys that can step up and take a role,” Kris Letang said of the absences.
The Penguins fell behind quickly in the second and never mounted enough of a sustained challenge.
New York was just a bit quicker than the Penguins in the second period and their transition game a step faster. In the first 30 seconds of the second period, Chris Kreider was the recipient of a two-zone headman pass. Jarry stopped his shot, but New York outnumbered the Penguins near Jarry and Frank Vatrano (16) deposited the rebound past an outstretched Jarry.
It was Vatrano’s fourth goal and fifth point against the Penguins in six games this season.
It was also another goal in the first minute of the period.
If you had trouble following the ESPN+ coverage, you were not alone. Even the replays often couldn’t find the puck or were micro-focused on a player to the detriment of the play.
Midway through the middle period, the Penguins were again scrambled by the Rangers’ transition. Three Penguins including center Jeff Carter and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel went with Rangers center Ryan Strome to the net. Artemi Panarin (20) filled the vacuous space between the circles to squeeze a high backhand past Jarry.
The eyes and paper differed greatly. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins had 12 scoring chances in the second period. Yet, anyone who watched the game had little expectation to see the Pittsburgh Penguins light the lamp.
After two periods, the Rangers and Penguins were nearly deadlocked on shots, 18-17 Rangers.
The Penguins power-play was soft without Crosby. The top unit struggled to get zone time or chances in two opportunities. It was the second unit with Mike Matheson and Jeff Carter that generated a little bit of momentum but neither unit tickled the twine.
The Penguins have scored just four goals in the last 12 periods against the New York Rangers and lost three of four, including all three meetings in the last two weeks.
After the last loss, Penguins winger Jake Guentzel admitted the Penguins perhaps paid too much respect to Shesterkin, and it appeared to be the same story for much of the first two periods.
On March 29, Guentzel said:
“Yeah, I think so. I think. We know he’s a good goaltender, but from our end, we’ve just got to put pucks on net. You never know what happens,” Guentzel said. “I mean, both of our goals tonight, we got guys in front of that if it’s a tip or a screen. We’ve got to take something from this game, and we’ve got to make sure we’re putting pucks on net and having net-front traffic and getting to the front of the net.”
The Penguins had a third power play late in the third period but no dice. The Penguins had five shots on three power plays.
Dryden Hunt scored the empty netter. .