The New York Rangers closed out their schedule heading into the Olympic break with a huge, huge shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite giving up the lead three separate times, the Rangers found a way to snag the two points, and head into the break on a high note. Even though the score didn't necessarily look like it, the Rangers actually dominated a majority of this game at even strength. However, they wound up giving the Penguins too many power play off of undisciplined penalties, and it ended up in the back of their net. Aside from the other two goals, the third goal was a collective fail on all five guys as they basically left Henrik Lundqvist out to dry in front of the net.
The Rangers wound up having quite the start to this game, and it only took them a little over a minute to come away with the game's first goal. Marc Staal's initial point shot wound up giving Marc-Andre Fleur some trouble, and allowed Mats Zuccarello to get a quick whack at it in front. With the Penguins looking for a whistle, Benoit Pouliot swooped right in and jammed the puck into the net for the 1-0 lead. It just was a perfect example of playing to whistle, and they wound up reaping the rewards from it.
Although, that lead would only wind up lasting approximately ten minutes as the Penguins answered right back on the power play. Carl Hagelin took a questionable interference call on Evgeni Malkin at the Penguins blue line, and gave the Pens their first power play of the game. With Hagelin's penalty close to expiring, Olli Maatta wound up jamming home a lofty rebound in front of Lundqvist, and the game was tied at 1-1.
Fast forward to the second period, and the Rangers eventually got a chance of their own to answer with the man advantage. Just four seconds off of the ensuing face-off, Dan Girardi ripped a half slapshot from the high slot that found it's way over the shoulder of Fleury. Benoit Pouliot didn't allow Fleury to track the puck on it's way in as he posted up at the top of the crease, and took away any chance he had seeing the puck.
However, just like last time, the Rangers wound up giving the goal right back to the Penguins a few minutes later. This time it was Evgeni Malkin on the power play as he ripped a heavy slapper from the right face-off dot, and fooled Lundqvist. Based on Lundqvist's body position, he wasn't necessarily expecting Malkin to shoot the puck from that angle, but he did, and made it count.
With the Rangers needing a big push back in the third period, they went right on the attack from the puck drop and starting to push the momentum back in their favor. Hard work from Derick Brassard in the corner wound up drawing a penalty against Brooks Orpik, and gave the Rangers a golden opportunity to convert midway through the period. A little under 30 seconds into the ensuing power play, Dan Girardi and Benoit Pouliot connected to put the Rangers up for the third time this game.
Girardi noticed that he didn't have a clear shooting lane from the point, and wound up ripping a shot off of the end boards which rebounded right back in front. Pouliot anticipated the bounce, and quickly snapped the puck under the crossbar with about six inches of space to work with. While it was a huge goal for the Rangers, you had to figure the Penguins were going to be pushing hard in the closing minutes of the game.
Just as anticipated, the Penguins caught a break with three minutes to play in the game as James Neal tied up the game with a wide open shot in the slot. The Rangers five man unit had a collective brain failure which saw all five guys starring at the puck in the corner. Because of that, James Neal was able to sneak in behind everyone undetected, picked up the loose puck, and snap it over the blocker of Lundqvist. Man-to-man defense is fairly effective when it's execute properly, but it can also bite you back just as quickly if everyone isn't following their guy. In this case, Anton Stralman's guy snuck in from the point, and Callahan had to make a diving effort from the high slot in a last ditch effort to break up the play.
Either way, the Rangers were able to snag a point in the game, and sent the game to the extra overtime period. For whatever reason, the Rangers came out of the short break with absolutely no momentum, and were basically sitting back on their heels for all five minutes in the overtime period. Luckily enough they caught a few breaks, and were able to push the game to the skills competition.
Jussi Jokinen, Benoit Pouliot, and Sidney Crosby all missed in order, which left Mats Zuccarello with an opportunity to put the Rangers on the board. We've all seen Zuccarello come in very little speed during his shootout attempts in the past, but he finally switched it up tonight. He came in with some speed, got Fleury to open up the pads, and slipped it between the legs for the easy goal. However, Malkin wound up coming down on the next attempt and did the same exact thing to Lundqvist, and evened up the score.
That left the potential game winning goal on the stick of Brad Richards, and he delivered big time. Richards came in with some speed, and quickly ripped the shot off of the crossbar and into the back of the net for the win. It was a huge goal to cap off a huge win for the Rangers, and it was a great way to head into the Olympic break. In their last six games, the Rangers have gone 5-1, and continue to put some slight distance between the rest of the Metropolitan Division.
The biggest question mark will be seeing how the Rangers come out at the end of February, and whether or not the break wound up hault some of the momentum they've been carrying. Either way, Olympic hockey is only a week away, and seven Rangers will be representing their countries in Sochi, Russia. During that time, you can probably expect a lot of Team USA coverage as we all look forward to the tournament starting up. Until then, let's go Rangers!