The Pittsburgh Penguins are running out of chances to get back on the sunny side of a handshake line.
The New York Rangers beat them, 5-3, Friday night at PPG Paints Arena in Game 6 of their opening-round playoff series, which will be settled in Game 7 Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Chris Kreider scored at 18:32 of the third period to break a 3-3 tie and give the Rangers their second consecutive victory in the series.
Kreider’s shot hit goalie Louis Domingue and fluttered over him before dropping into the crease and skidding across the goal line.
The goal initially was credited to Krieder, then was switched to Mika Zibanejad before going back to Kreider after the game.
For the second time in three nights, the Penguins allowed a 2-0 lead to mutate into a 3-2 deficit during the second period, although in both cases they generated a tying goal before the intermission.
Game 6 might have been the final home game of the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Kris Letang era, as Malkin and Letang are eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.
Perhaps it was appropriate, given that all three have dealt with significant lost-time injuries during their careers, that the trio that has accomplished so much over the past 16 seasons wasn’t intact for that potentially climactic game.
Crosby, who was knocked out of Game 5 when Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba launched an elbow into his head during the second period, spent the evening in street clothes.
His availability for Game 7 is not known.
Crosby was the Penguins’ most prominent absentee, but not the only significant player to sit out the game.
Top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin and second-line right winger Rickard Rakell did not dress for the fifth consecutive game and goalie Tristan Jarry, who got a broken bone in his foot late in the regular season, also was not in uniform.
The crowd’s biggest reasons to cheer during the first 14-plus minutes of the opening period came courtesy of Brian Boyle and Jason Zucker, both of whom delivered big hits on Trouba.
Boyle left the game later in the period after logging just two shifts.
That all changed at 14:12, when Jeff Carter put a backhander past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin from the left side of the crease for his fourth goal of the series.
The goal was made possible by Shesterkin’s inability to get control of the puck during a Penguins flurry around his net.
Kasperi Kapanen, who fed a pass to Carter from below the goal line, and Marcus Pettersson picked up the assists on that goal, which the fans still were celebrating when Bryan Rust made it 2-0 at 15:48.
Rust took a cross-ice feed from Jake Guentzel and beat Shesterkin from the bottom of the left circle for his second in this round.
It presumably did not distress most of the crowd that Trouba and his defense partner, K’Andre Miller, were on the ice for both goals in the first period.
Rangers winger Frank Vatrano, who has had exceptional success against the Penguins, nearly pared New York’s deficit when he put a shot off the crossbar behind Domingue at 16:12.
Domingue subsequently made several quality stops, including one on a deflection by Ryan Strome, to allow the Penguins to reach the intermission with a two-goal advantage.
Domingue made nice saves on Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko early in the second, but Zibanejad — who had failed to score in the first five games — tied the game with goals 76 seconds apart.
He scored from the top of the right circle at 5:05 — just five seconds after Evan Rodrigues was assessed a roughing minor for retaliating after Ryan Lindgren cross-checked him into the boards — and again at 6:21, that time from above the left circle.
That marked the third time in the series the Penguins were unable to protect a multiple-goal lead.
It’s understandable that Rodrigues was upset, but going after Lindgren in that situation was as selfish as it was costly.
The Penguins had a chance to regain the momentum when they got a 5-on-3 power play for 67 seconds as the middle of the period approached, but for the second consecutive game were unable to capitalize on an extended two-man advantage.
What’s more, Zibanejad, who was called for the first of New York’s minors, got a breakaway as he left the penalty box, but put a backhander off the crossbar.
Shesterkin, incessantly taunted at PPG Paints Arena throughout the series, made New York’s go-ahead goal possible with a long-distance, precise pass to Zibanejad.
Zibanejad took the feed near the Penguins’ blue line and, although Domingue was able to stop his shot, Kreider swatted in the rebound at 13:48.
Krieder’s goal came while Mike Matheson was serving a double-minor for high-sticking Vatrano.
The game clearly was getting away from the Penguins at that point … until Malkin singlehandedly lifted them back into it.
He intercepted a Trouba pass inside the Penguins’ blue line and outraced Miller into the New York end before sticking a shot behind Shesterkin to make it 3-3 heading into the third.
Rust nearly put the Pittsburgh Penguins in front about six minutes into the third, but his shot from the right side of the slot glanced off the outside of the post.
After Krieder made it 4-3, Andrew Copp sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net with 26.4 seconds to go in regulation.