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Rangers pick up crucial point in overtime loss to the Penguins

Bobby Bevilacqua

Rangers vs Penguins 3-27

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

It’s never good to lose, but if there’s a way to do it against a division rival battling for playoff position, it’s in overtime. In a very even and tightly contested game, the Rangers (43-24-9) were defeated in overtime by the Pittsburgh Penguins (42-25-8), ending their three game win streak and seeing the Penguins win their eighth game in the past nine contests.

This also marked the third consecutive game that the Penguins have beaten the Rangers, giving New York a record of 1-2-1 in the season series. The overtime loss was crucial, meaning that they would still be a point ahead of the Penguins if they won a game in regulation or overtime (ROW = tiebreaker).

The first period was very even between both teams. Similar possession, the shots on goal were very close (13-11 in favor of New York), and each team scored a goal. Both teams played last night and that showed at first, as both teams were clearly trying to find their legs and stretch the ice.

Alain Vigneault decided to shift Kevin Hayes back to center and put Eric Staal on the wing, and it worked, quickly. Staal scored his second goal as a Ranger off of a beautiful feed from Hayes. Hayes backhanded a puck on the rush, sending it through the middle of the ice. Staal fought off his defender, and wound up re-directing the puck past Fleury with just one hand, giving the Rangers the lead just 4:19 into the game.

Before the play, Dan Girardi made a great play to defend a Matt Cullen shot and tie him up, sending the Rangers on the rush. So kudos to him.

The Penguins had to deal with some pressure from the Rangers, including some good looks on the power play, but the Pens began to build up their own pressure. Phil Kessel was shooting from everywhere and had a part in jump-starting their offense.

Eventually, the Penguins would wind up breaking through with their first goal of the game, and it was the veteran Matt Cullen. Derrick Pouliot sent a shot from the point that was tipped through the pads of Lundqvist, just trickling through. Cullen made sure to tap it in just to be sure, and he tied the game with his 13th goal of the season. The period would end with both teams sitting on one goal.

The second period was very entertaining and fast paced, and it essentially turned into the Phil Kessel and Eric Staal show. Both players were flying all over the ice and creating chance after chance, with each player scoring a goal as well.

Just over two minutes into the middle period, Eric Staal scored his second goal of the game and his third as a Ranger. New York pinned the Penguins back in their own zone for a while, tiring out that line and opening up the ice. Jesper Fast made a fantastic play to maintain possession and give the puck to Staal, and he rifled a shot from a tough angle over the shoulder of Fleury, giving the Rangers their one goal lead back.

That woke Pittsburgh up and they immediately started playing their speedy brand of hockey, particularly abusing the speed of Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel on the wings. Kessel took over the period, firing shots from everywhere and kick-starting the offense yet again.

That line would score for Pittsburgh on a sloppy play from Henrik Lundqvist trying to play the puck behind the net. He sent the puck along the boards but right to Carl Hagelin, who sent a quick shot on goal. Hank made that save but was out of position for the follow up shot from Kessel, who scored his sixth point in the past two days and his 23rd goal of the season.

Kessel didn’t stop there, abusing his speed and sending a rifle of a shot that pinged off of the crossbar and luckily bounced out and away from the net. He then did the same on Girardi and McDonagh, beating them around the outside to set up Hagelin and force a pad save from Lundqvist, respectively.

Eric Staal countered with some of his own great chances, nearly scoring his hat trick goal twice. He was sprung on an excellent breakaway chance but Fleury made a fantastic save to rob him. After two periods, the Rangers were up in shots, 22-21, but Kessel’s goal had the game tied at two.

There wasn’t a lot of action in the third period, because the Rangers played more defensively and both teams limited the amount of ice available, especially in the neutral zone. The Penguins outshot the Rangers 9-5 but the high-quality chances were pretty even. Henrik made a few good saves here, stopping Patric Hornqvist on a pseudo breakaway. Chris Kunitz also hit the post with under a minute to go, the third hit post/crossbar for the Penguins in the game.

In overtime, the Penguins started out with a power play due to Derick Brassard’s high sticking minor with a second to go in regulation. The Rangers did a great job killing off the penalty, highlighted by Marc Staal’s diving poke check on a cross ice pass.

There weren’t many stoppages in the overtime, leading to mostly 4v4 play after the penalty was killed off. When there was one and the game went back to three skaters a piece, the Penguins struck. Kris Letang fired a shot from the point and Sidney Crosby deflected a shot off of Zuccarello’s leg and past Lundvist, earning the extra point and drawing within three points of the Rangers in the division.

Honestly, this was a coin flip game, and either team could have realistically won it. It’s hard to get mad at this game, except if you hate seeing Crosby score. But the overtime point made the loss sting a bit less, as does the fact that their next three games are against the Hurricanes, the Sabres and the Blue Jackets.

If there’s anything we learned from this game, it’s that Henrik Lundqvist should never play the puck, and that Eric Staal on the wing with Kevin Hayes at center works great. The line of EStaal-Hayes-Fast was the best and most consistent throughout the night, and both Hayes and Staal looked better offensively in their new positions. Hopefully AV keeps it together.

The Rangers will have three days off before an emotional return to Carolina for Eric Staal on Thursday.

THREE STARS

1) Eric Staal – 2 G, 4 SOG, 8 SA, 2 HT, 16:28 TOT

2) Jesper Fast – 2 A, 2 SOG, 14:09 TOT

3) Kevin Hayes – 2 A, 14:05 TOT

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Posted on March 28, 2016, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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