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Penguins Overcome Molasses Start, Get Sweet Finish, 3-2



Winning this game didn’t put the Pittsburgh Penguins into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And it didn’t really salve the sting of losing their opening-round series to the New York Rangers seven months ago.

Not completely, anyway.

But as regular-season victories go, their 3-2 win over the Rangers at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night had to feel pretty good.

Partly because it gave them a sliver of revenge for what happened in the spring, partly because of its impact on this season’s Metropolitan Division standings and playoff race.

The victory allowed the Penguins (19-9-4) to hurdle the Rangers (18-11-5) and move into third place in the Metro, two points behind second-place New Jersey.

But for all that was at stake — tangible or otherwise — on this evening, the Penguins showed little, if any, urgency during the first half of the game. Once they ratcheted up the intensity, however, they were able to keep it there long enough to up their record in the past 20 games to 15-3-2.

Precisely why they were so sluggish for the first 30-plus minutes remains a mystery, however.

“It was a tale of two games inside of 60 minutes,” Mike Sullivan said. “The first half of the game, we just weren’t at our best. I don’t think we had a whole lot of emotion. We were flat-lined, a bit. We weren’t skating. We weren’t getting to pucks. We weren’t getting on top of them, putting them under pressure.

“I just thought it was a lackluster performance for the first half of the game. I thought, somewhere in the middle of the second period, we started to get some life. We started to play with some juice.”

Second-line left winger Jason Zucker rejoined the Penguins’ lineup after sitting out the previous two games, and provided some of that juice, but fourth-line winger Josh Archibald was scratched because of an unspecified injury.

“(Zucker) is one of the more vocal guys we have on our team,” Sullivan said. “He engages a lot with that game-away-from-the-game, so to speak, with some of the talk that goes on between our opponents and our team on the ice. (Zucker) is pretty good at that. He has the ability to drag us into the fight, just with his energy, his competitiveness. He plays the game with a little bit of reckless abandon.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t get the start Sullivan had in mind, but it’s one he figures to see again. In his nightmares.

Just 22 seconds after the opening faceoff. Rangers winger Chris Kreider threw a harmless-looking shot toward the net. The puck deflected off defenseman Marcus Pettersson and sailed past Tristan Jarry to put New York up, 1-0.

At 1:58, P.O Joseph was called for holding, giving the Rangers a chance to pad their advantage. The Penguins, however, did not give New York a shot on goal during that power play, giving them 22 successful kills in 23 shorthanded situations over seven-plus games.

Upper St. Clair native Vincent Trocheck, who assisted on Kreider’s goal, nearly made it 2-0 just over six minutes into the period, but his shot caromed off Jarry’s left arm and the crossbar. A few minutes later, New York’s Jimmy Vesey put a backhander from above the right hashmark off the left post.

The Rangers got their second try with the extra man when Pettersson went off for slashing at 13:59, but it was cut short when Adam Fox held Brock McGinn 68 seconds later. The Penguins did not get a shot on goal during the 52-second man-advantage after Pettersson’s minor expired.

After looking sluggish, if not borderline disinterested, for most of the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins began to register a pulse during a strong shift by Evgeni Malkin’s line with about seven minutes to go in the second period.

A few minutes later, the game was tied.

Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller was penalized for interference at 13:43 and just 41 seconds into the power play, Malkin threw a shot past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin, who had been 9-0-1 in his previous 10 starts on the road, from the top of the left circle for his 11th of the season.

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang received assists (although Letang’s subsequently was removed), but the guy who really made the goal possible was Rickard Rakell, who set a perfect screen in front of Shesterkin as Malkin was shooting.

“When we got the first power-play goal, it gave us some energy,” Sullivan said. “We got a boost off of that. From that point on, we were a better hockey team.”

The Penguins got another chance with the man-advantage when Rangers winger Sammy Blais was called for roughing after punching McGinn at 18:09, and also capitalized on that opportunity.

Bryan Rust, positioned at the front lip of the crease, tipped a Joseph shot past Shesterkin with 12.7 second to go before the intermission. Zucker also got an assist on the goal, Rust’s eighth.

Crosby gave the Penguins some short-lived breathing room at 8:40, as he took a feed from Jake Guentzel and slid a backhander between Shesterkin’s legs for a 3-1 lead, but Kreider got New York back within a goal just 83 seconds later.

Trocheck set Kreider up with a cross-ice feed after deking past Joseph near the right point in the Penguins’ end, but New York was unable to get the goal that would have forced overtime.

Much of the credit for that goes to Jarry, who finished with 26 saves.

“His game is really sharp right now,” Sullivan said. “It has been for a while.”

And it will have to continue to be if the Pittsburgh Penguins are to continue to challenge for the top spot in the Metro. Especially when they’re trying to take a couple of points from the Rangers.

“Every time we play them, it seems to come down to one goal,” Sullivan said.

Tuesday night, the Penguins were reminded how good it feels to be the ones who finish with that one extra goal.