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Miller, Brassard power Rangers to Game 2 win over the Penguins

Bobby Bevilacqua

Keith Yandle goal celebration 4-16

Keith Yandle celebrates his first goal of the 2016 NHL Playoffs. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Led by three point games from Derick Brassard and JT Miller, the Rangers finally solved Jeff Zatkoff, skating out of the CONSOL Energy Center with a 4-2 win in Game 2, evening up the series at one game apiece and shifting control of home ice to the Rangers.

After a 35 save performance from Zatkoff in Game 1, they finally wound up getting their offensive production going, scoring four goals on 28 shots, with all of the goals coming in a span of 8:01. Keith Yandle, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider all finding the back of the net.

The Rangers decided to ramp up the physicality in this game, setting a franchise record for hits in a playoff game that ended in regulation (57). Kevin Klein (8) and Derick Brassard (7) led the Rangers in that category. The physicality and relentless forecheck was key to throwing the Penguins off of their game and containing their speed.

JT Miller was the star of this game, notching three primary assists on the first three Rangers goals, and playing a huge part in getting the offense up and running. He was promoted to the first line alongside of Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, and that trio played extremely well. Nash didn’t get on the scoresheet despite some fantastic chances, but played a strong overall game. Unlike last year, Miller is the better winger alongside Brassard, not Zuccarello.

Dan Girardi was out with an injury, and Dylan McIlrath took his spot. The Rangers defense was better for it, despite McIlrath playing only 9:07 in his first ever NHL Playoff game. He had some shaky shifts, but played well for the most part. But Vigneault’s treatment of him is not acceptable, and we’ll probably see Girardi come right back in and get big minutes, even though he can’t handle them anymore.

As for the other defenseman, they played pretty well actually. Kevin Klein was phenomenal, playing 23:20 and shouldering the heavy defensive assignments. Marc Staal was his partner, and he was a lot better alongside Klein. Keith Yandle was fantastic as always, and the rookie Brady Skjei played a superb game, logging 19:02 of ice time and collecting his first career point, an assist.

The Rangers have won each of the last five playoff games when trailing in a series, dating back to Game 5 of the second round against the Washington Capitals in 2015.

The Rangers approached this period differently than they did in Game 1, playing more conservatively, and trying to bottle up the Penguins speed with physicality. Evgeni Malkin was back in the lineup for the Pens, but Jeff Zatkoff was in net.

The Rangers set the tone early with Kevin Klein obliterating Conor Sheary as he tried to dump the puck in. New York would outhit Pittsburgh 22-4 in the game, which definitely had an impact on the game. Pittsburgh doesn’t respond well to physicality all of the time, and the Rangers did well throwing them off track.

Henrik Lundqvist, starting today following his scary eye injury, and he was sharp, making 10 saves. He made a few really great saves in this game, stopping Patric Hornqvist’s redirected feed from Evgeni Malkin, stopping Kris Letang on a give-and-go, and turning aside Sidney Crosby with a blocker save.

Dylan McIlrath was in the lineup to replace the injured Dan Girardi, and he looked really good alongside Keith Yandle. Brady Skjei had a spectacular period, using his strength to stop Bryan Rust on a breakaway, and making a few other heads up plays and interceptions.

The Rangers had some good looks of their own, with Derek Stepan generating the best chance of the period. He blocked a shot and created a breakaway, but Jeff Zatkoff made a big save. Tanner Glass almost tucked one on the short side with a backhand shot, and Dylan McIlrath came close on some blasts from the point. When it was all said and done, the Penguins were up in shots 10-7.

It was a tale of two halves in the second period for the Rangers, doing a whole lot of nothing early on and then seeing their offense come to life in the last eight minutes or so. Things started well for New York, with Rick Nash getting a breakaway chance in the first few seconds, but he was unable to convert. Zatkoff came up big with the left pad.

The Penguins got a power play opportunity about two minutes into the period when Mats Zuccarello was whistled for hooking, and Pittsburgh broke through with the first goal of the game. It was their second odd man rush, and it was a perfectly executed passing play. Nick Bonino passed it off to Trevor Daley, and he made a perfect little pass to Kessel, who converted on the one-timer for his first goal of the playoffs.

Hank was very sharp again this period, making some great stops. Before the goal, he denied Kessel on an odd man rush, and he made another spectacular pad save on Chris Kunitz to keep the deficit to just one goal. At the end of the period, Lundqvist made a spectacular glove save on Bryan Rust coming out of the penalty box.

After a failed power play, the Rangers got to work, scoring three goals in a span of 3:14 and taking their first lead of the playoffs. Keith Yandle scored the first goal, making a great read of the situation. JT Miller centered the puck through the crease, it trickled through a defenseman and Yandle collected the loose puck. The game was tied at one.

Just 18 seconds later, Derick Brassard gave the Rangers the lead on a breakaway chance, keeping the play onside, bursting past his defenseman and firing a puck short side past Zarkoff. Big game Brass had his first goal of the playoffs, JT Miller had his second assist, and Brady Skjei picked up his first career point, an assist.

Shortly after that, Mats Zuccarello scored the third Rangers goal. JT Miller made another spectacular play, sending an amazing cross ice pass to Zuccs for the wide open net. The score was 3-1 Rangers, and JT Miller had three primary assists in the period. Both teams has 21 saves after two periods.

From the start of the period, the Rangers decided that they weren’t going to just sit on the lead, immediately applying pressure on the forecheck. And they were rewarded with their fourth unanswered goal of the game. Chris Kreider blocked a clearing attempt, had the puck fall right at his feet and he rifled it past Zatkoff for his first goal of the playoffs.

After a crazy sequence of penalties on both teams, the Penguins came away with a 4-on-3 power play. It took them just 12 seconds to score, and it was Phil Kessel scoring again. A picture perfect passing play cut the lead to just two goals.

The rest of the game turned a little more physical. There were some scrums, pushing and shoving, and some tensions rising. Derek Stepan was crosschecked into the boards by Ben Lovejoy, and Marc Staal was slashed by Chris Kunitz, prompting a response from Keith Yandle.

The Penguins pulled Jeff Zatkoff with about three minutes to go, but to no avail. Some strong defense and solid goaltending from Lundqvist sealed a big Game Two win for the Rangers, sending the series to MSG tied at one game apiece.

Game Three will be Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, with puck drop around 7 PM.

THREE STARS

1) JT Miller – 3 A, +3, 3 HT, +5 CF, 15:47 TOT

2) Derick Brassard – 1 G, 2 A, +4, +8 CF, 7 HT, 17:59 TOT

3) Henrik Lundqvist – 29 SV, .935 SV%

Honorable Mention

  • Brady Skjei – 1 A, 3 BS, 3 HT, 19:02 TOT
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Posted on April 16, 2016, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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