The afternoon began like most contests have for the Rangers during their losing skid, with the Penguins scoring the first two goals of the game in the opening five minutes. What happened next, though, was a little different from what we are used to seeing. The Blueshirts actually turned things around with five unanswered goals, three of which came on the powerplay, to put an end to the dreadful losing streak and grab a needed two points in the standings. I know this may be an obvious thing to say, but I will say it anyway: it's about time.
It only took two minutes for the Penguins to get on the board first when Deryk Engelland's long slapper deflected of the back of Steve Eminger and past Henrik Lundqvist. Like they were in Atlanta on Friday, the Rangers were scrambling defensively on this play, and despite Lundqvist making two to three saves originally, Pittsburgh still was able to find the back of the net. That's when I think most of us assumed the losing streak was going to stretch to seven games.
And if you didn't believe so then, you probably did once Nick Johnson scored on an odd-man rush exactly three minutes later. The Blueshirts lost the faceoff and then allowed Jordan Staal, Dupuis and Johnson all to come storming down the ice without any series challenge. To top it all off, Lundqvist let the fluttering shot go off his glove and into the goal and just like that it was 2-0.
Thankfully Brian Boyle came up with a huge answering goal within the same minute, deflecting a Marc Staal point shot perfectly into the bottom corner of the net. That made it 2-1, but Ryan Callahan's powerplay tip-in at the midway point later tied the game at two. Some credit must go to head coach John Tortorella here for calling a timeout after the Penguins' second goal. He stayed composed on the bench and regrouped his squad. Clearly it worked.
The Rangers picked up where they left off 1:34 into the second period with Brandon Dubinsky perfectly setting up Vinny Prospal for a tap-in at the side of the net. Both Pittsburgh defensemen collapsed to Dubinsky, so heads up play by Prospal to get to the net where he knew he would be left wide open. Also, what a beautiful pass through traffic by Dubinsky. I think it went unnoticed by the MSG Network staff how great that feed actually was.
Ryan Callahan (second goal of the game) and Artem Anisimov followed that up with back-to-back powerplay goals to extend New York's lead to 5-2. That added up to three powerplay goals on the afternoon, which is a season high within one game for the Rangers. Coincidence that all three tallies with the man advantage occurred because of players going to the net? I think not.
Brett Sterling gave the Penguins a miniscule amount of hope by scoring a goal five minutes into the third period to make it a 5-3 game. Shortly after that, Pittsburgh was given a four-minute powerplay, which was an enormous opportunity for them to get back into the game. However, the Rangers shut the door defensively, as did Lundqvist in net, and they came up with the clutch kill to preserve their lead and eventually earn the victory.
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Alternate captain Ryan Callahan was named the first star of the game and deservedly so. This was by far Callahan's best effort since returning to the lineup on February 1 (also against the Pens), as he picked up points on three of the five Ranger goals that were scored. Again, the biggest thing here was that he continuously went to the net and/or took advantage of linemates being there. Sometimes it takes a leader to pull a team out of a slump, and that's just what Captain Cally did today. (I consider him to be the primary captain with Drury out)
Speaking of leaders, how about the performance by Marc Staal on defense in this tilt? Marc has no question struggled a bit since returning from All-Star weekend, but he was completely lights out this afternoon. Whether it was against his brother or any other player leading the Penguin rush, he always seemed to be there to make the smart play in order to break it up. That's Marc in a nutshell right there.
Although he only had one assists, I really like Brandon Dubinsky's game as well. He played a real gritty game. Well, I guess he always does but today there was a little extra push/momentum carrying him forward. This isn't the first time we've seen Callahan and Dubinsky both stepping up to the plate at a crucial time for the Rangers.
Before I put a wrap on this, it is also worth mentioning that Wojtek Wolski and Dan Girardi both apparently left the game with injuries. While Girardi's situation was a little mysterious since he was not on the bench for the second half of the third, Wolski was legitimately hurting. He said after the game that he tweaked a rib muscle and hopes to skate on Tuesday.
Well it's finally over, folks. The worst stretch of the entire season has finally come to an end, but the Rangers now need to build on this moving forward. It's one win, great, but they need to make it into three or four in a row here. They are safe in seventh for now, but there are teams quickly creeping up on the in the Eastern Conference standings.