The Rangers slip three past Marc-Andre Fleury, but the Penguins goalie largely made things difficult for the Blueshirts Sunday at the Garden.
Overlooking details will not cut it for the Rangers. It hasn’t worked the last two days, it won’t be good enough on this week’s upcoming three-city trip through California, and it certainly won’t suffice in the playoffs in April as evidenced again in Sunday afternoon’s 5-3 loss to the Penguins at the Garden.
The Rangers (39-23-7, 85 points) faced playoff-caliber teams this weekend in a breathless back-to-back. So they lost to a desperate wild-card in Detroit, 3-2 in OT, Saturday afternoon. Then they fell to another desperate wild-card Penguins (36-24-8, 80 points) on Matt Cullen’s bank shot off Marc Staal and past Henrik Lundqvist at 11:09 of the third period and Sidney Crosby’s insurance empty-netter.
Cullen scored on a delayed penalty because Derick Brassard stuck his foot out and tripped the Pens center near the boards in a tie game. But the circumstances and the result were fitting on a sloppy day at MSG, and the Blueshirts fell partially because early on they couldn’t solve Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — the man who had called Lundqvist’s net-shoving antics in Pittsburgh “baby stuff” last week.
They lost despite a forceful game-tying goal 5:04 into the third period from captain Ryan McDonagh on a wraparound off skillful assists from Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller to make it 3-3, and despite Brassard’s power play goal from Keith Yandle and Derek Stepan at 8:59 of the second that had tied the game at two apiece.
No matter that this was the second of seven straight games against a current playoff seed. This was also the Blueshirts’ first game with their full complement of their top players together in the lineup since Jan. 16.
Kevin Klein sends Patric Hornqvist over the boards in the first period.
Regular starter Tanner Glass (upper-body injury) did not dress, but Derick Brassard returned after missing Saturday’s game in Detroit with the flu to join Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Eric Staal, et al.
Plus, Pittsburgh was without stud center Evgeni Malkin (upper-body injury, out 6-to-8 weeks) who likely will be out until at least the second round of the playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers (32-23-12, 76 points) are suddenly on the Pens’ heels, though, with Philly 7-2-1 in its last 10, and Mike Sullivan’s team needs points.
Alain Vigneault continued to show his lack of patience for passivity and ineffectiveness in response to mistakes. A week after benching Miller in a home loss to the Islanders, on Sunday afternoon Vigenault benched Dominic Moore and Kevin Hayes completely in this defeat.
Before benching Moore, Vigneault even pulled the veteran completely off the penalty kill for his first time as a Ranger after losing another defensive zone face-off before a Pens power play goal in the first period. Moore concluded his last shift with 7:13 remaining in the second period.
Hayes did not play another shift after losing Pens forward Conor Sheary (two goals) to allow a Pens breakaway goal at 15:55 of the second period that gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead entering the third period.
The Rangers carried play early, outshooting Pittsburgh 19-12 in the first period and attempting 30 shots to just 17 for the Pens. The teams went to intermission tied at one apiece, though, due to Fleury’s rock-solid start and some lackluster focus from the Blueshirts.
Kris Letang mixes it up with Rick Nash.
Sidney Crosby was dominant. A collision between Dan Girardi and Mats Zuccarello at the offensive blue line gave way to a Penguins odd-man rush with the game scoreless. Conor Sheary whiffed on an amazing Crosby pass to the front for an easy goal, but Pittsburgh still would score first.
Miller’s neutral zone holding-the-stick penalty gave way to a Patric Hornqvist power play goal off a Crosby rebound. Lundqvist made several good early saves, but he failed to hug the post, and his fellow Swede Hornqvist banked a bad-angle shot off the King’s back and in at 11:56 for a 1-0 deficit.
Kreider evened the score with his fifth goal in nine games at 18:06 off the rush, dunking in Derek Stepan’s smart feed off a Kevin Klein secondary assist. The goal started with yet another good defensive play by Stepan, who had lifted Crosby’s stick on the other end to turn the play.
Yandle had a turnover-filled first, though, and captain Ryan McDonagh for a second straight game didn’t start right. His hooking penalty in the late first gave the Pens a second power play, and only a terrific Lundqvist left pad stop on a skillful Crosby rebound gather and shot kept the game tied as the horn sounded.