Recap: Rangers Dampen Pens’ Playoff Push, 4-2

The Rangers are now 4-0-1 in their last 5, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

The Rangers hosted the Penguins Thursday night in the second of three matchups this week. It was an important game for the Penguins, who needed at least a point to avoid ceding further ground in the playoff chase.

First Period:

For the second game in a row, Mika Zibanejad scored the opening goal. In the defensive zone, Vladimir Tarasenko knocked the puck away from Sidney Crosby, and it was picked up by Artemniy Panarin. Panarin banked the puck off the boards to a wide-open Zibanejad, who had all the time he needed to undress Tristan Jarry for his 200th career goal:

A few minutes later, Jeff Petry caught an elbow from Tyler Motte. One might argue he should have kept his shoulder down, but it hardly looked intentional, as Motte was trying to play the puck and Petry initiated contact. Things got a bit chippy from there but didn’t fully boil over. Motte took a few big hits his next shift, including an elbow to the jaw from Pierre-Oliver Joseph, and his head hit the glass. It didn’t look unintentional. Maybe I’m biased, but I try to be objective about these things. I dunno. I’m sure there has been and will continue to be healthy, constructive discourse between Rangers and Penguins fans on the internet. Fortunately, Motte didn’t stay in the locker room for long and seemed to be okay, but given his recent “upper-body injury,” it was still scary. Petry did not return.

As far as the actual game is concerned, the Rangers seemed like they could do whatever they wanted with the puck, short of scoring. They created a ton of scoring chances, and all four lines spent significant time in the offensive zone. 10/10, no notes.

Second Period:

The Penguins looked better in the second, and while the Rangers weren’t amazing, they didn’t have one of their complete swoons either.

It took until the final five minutes, but Pittsburgh tied the game. K’Andre Miller tried to wrap the puck around the boards to Jacob Trouba but Sidney Crosby read the play perfectly. He picked off the pass and set up Rickard Rakell alone in front.

The Rangers answered a couple minutes later, on Motte’s first goal since his return to Broadway. He pressured Joseph on the forecheck, and the defender coughed up the puck. Motte recovered and fired it past Jarry in one quick motion. Ah, karma.

Third Period

The Rangers didn’t allow a shot on goal for the first seven minutes of the third, which was great. But then they allowed five in about two minutes, which was not great. One of those shots tied the game. Once again Crosby took advantage of a turnover, this time in the offensive zone, and he quickly found Jake Guentzel for his 30th goal.

Yet again, the Rangers pulled ahead. Adam Fox took a shot from the point, and Chris Kreider kicked it out of the air and onto his stick before firing it into the goal. Lucky bounce or calculated? You decide.

Kreider scored polished off the night with his 30th goal of the season on the empty net, giving the Rangers a 4-2 victory.

. . .

This game was a mixed bag for the Rangers. They had an amazing first period, a subpar second, and a solid third. But I believe they have a pretty significant problem playing with one-goal leads. It feels like they immediately take a step back and struggle to control the puck, leading to chances against and game-tying goals, where ideally they’d go out and get another. I’ll have more to say about that in a future article. The good news: the only line that didn’t score was the Kids Line, and even they looked better than they have recently. Ice-time continues to be well-distributed—no one Ranger is getting overloaded, and they shouldn’t with a lineup this deep. Plus, the regulation win leaves the Penguins with an even smaller margin for error to mount an already-improbable comeback against the Rangers in the standings.

The finale of this strangely scheduled week will take place Saturday night at 8:00, when the Rangers host the Penguins one last time.