In a surprising turn of events prior to tonight’s game, the New York Rangers announced that Henrik Lundqvist would not dress due to the flu. That left Ondrej Pavelec as the last minute starter, and boy did he put on quite a performance in Lundqvist’s absence.
In his first start since October 28 in Montreal, Pavelec turned away 41 shots this evening to help the Rangers steal two points in Pittsburgh. Despite a relatively strong start from the Rangers, they found themselves down a goal late in the period with a goal coming from Conor Sheary off to the right of the net. Patric Hornqvist did an excellent job of slipping the puck through a seam and right onto Sheary’s stick for the 1-0 lead.
The Rangers would respond, though, a little over a minute later with Boo Nieves cashing in on his first career NHL goal. Mats Zuccarello created the entire sequence with a great zone entry, followed by a slick back pass to Nieves who was just coming off of the bench. Nieves also deserves a ton of credit for getting his shot through traffic, which beat Tristan Jarry through the screen in front.
The teams would continue to trade goals during the second period with Phil Kessel restoring the Penguins one goal lead at the 7:11 mark. However, Jesper Fast and Mats Zuccarello would answer right back in consecutive order and for the first time all night, the Rangers held a one goal lead.
Jesper Fast’s goal came as a result of Brady Skjei’s impressive rush up the ice and Fast immediately pounced on the loose puck in the crease. Mats Zuccarello, on the other hand, caught a bit of a fortunate bounce on his goal with Jarry bobbling the puck before it rolled over the goal line.
Much like the second period, the Penguins came out in the third period with the better of the chances and eventually converted early. Patric Hornqvist caught a perfect breakout pass from Evgeni Malkin, which sent him in on a breakaway, and he snapped a shot past Ondrej Pavelec. Despite giving up another tying goal, the Rangers didn’t get down on themselves and kept generating chances in the offensive zone.
While Jarry smothered up most of the Rangers chances, they finally caught a break at the 11:12 mark and regained the lead for the second time. Pavel Buchnevich, the recipient of the goal, wound up banking the puck over Jarry after putting the puck off of Kris Letang’s skate. While it was the Rangers’ second fortunate bounce of the game, it wasn’t for a lack of chances and all goals count the same in the end.
Unlike the previous lead, the Rangers were able to hang onto this one for the long haul with Pavelec making two huge stops in the closing seconds. Missing both Henrik Lundqvist and their leading point producer in Mika Zibanejad obviously left some cause for concern tonight. However, the Rangers found a way to win in the end and ran away with two points while missing two key players from their lineup.
The Rangers have two more big matchups coming up this weekend against the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils. With the Metropolitan being as tight as it is, the Rangers will take any points they can gather in those games. We’ll see if the Rangers can make it three in a row on Friday, hopefully with a well rested Henrik Lundqvist back in the net.