After dropping their first four games of 2012, the Penguins have surged back to win four straight including a 4-1 route on the road against the Eastern Conference’s best team. Pittsburgh received goals from Chris Kunitz and Richard Park while Malkin added two more of his own as the Penguins continued their quest to climb the ranks in the Eastern Conference.
Before this game, the Penguins seemed to lack the extra “oomph” when it came to beating divisional opponents and top-tier teams. They may have gotten it from Kris Letang, who returned after a 21 game absence with a concussion. While the primary assist from Letang will be the only stat listed, his blocked shot may have been the better play.
Midway through the first period, Joe Girardi took a slapshot off a rebound that was heading for the net towards a down-and-out Marc-Andre Fleury. Kris Letang dove as Girardi released the shot and deflected the shot with his glove, forcing the puck into the netting for a stoppage in play.
The Penguins scored 3:16 into the first period when Chris Kunitz fired a rebound past Henrik Lundqvist. The play started with James Neal pushing a puck along the boards to Kunitz who found Paul Martin streaking down the middle of the ice alone. Martin’s shot was stopped by Lundqvist, who came into the contest allowing 1.90 goals per game this season. The puck was kicked out by Lundqvist and the rebound fell right on Kunitz’s stick to give Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead. It was Chris Kunitz’s first goal since December 31st and it came during one of the biggest games all season.
The Rangers evened the score midway through the second period on a goal from Carl Hagelin whose snapshot trickled through the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury. Paul Martin pinched in the offensive zone, before the goal, and was trapped but the Penguins failed to give any support to Matt Niskanen who allowed a pass from Marian Gaborik to the former sixth round pick, Hagelin, for the game tying goal.
It was the only high point of the game for New York.
Pittsburgh came out in the third period and capitalized on some of New York’s gaffes. Just 2:23 into the third, the Penguins generated a 3 on 1. Deryk Engelland fed Richard Park who squeaked a wrist shot between the right shoulder and right post of Lundqvist. For Park, it was his 99th career goal.
The goal would prove to be the game winner, as Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall, stopping 30 of 31 shots.
The Rangers certainly did their best to slow Malkin down in the beginning of the game. After a first period fight between Stu Bickell and Eric Tangradi, Brandan Dubinsky went after Malkin after the ensuing faceoff. A few minutes later, Malkin tried to duck a late hit from Brian Boyle which led to a scuffle between Boyle and Michalek.
The Russian never wavered.
After Kris Letang fired the puck around the boards, Evgeni Malkin took the puck, cut towards the net, dodged a diving Marc Staal, and fired a backhand past the sprawling Lundqvist. The goal put Malkin ahead of Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead and, effectively, ended the game. With under a minute remaining in the game, Malkin added an empty netter to tie James Neal for the team lead in goals with 24.
With this win, paired with losses by Philadelphia and New Jersey, the Penguins move closer to the Atlantic Division lead. The Penguins have now pulled into a tie with New Jersey for third in the Atlantic, four points back from Philadelphia, and eight points back from the New York Rangers. However, the road to resurgence doesn’t appear to get any easier in the next few games. After tomorrow night, where they play against a struggling Canadiens team, the Penguins will face the Capitals, Bruins, Blues, Devils and Maple Leafs; all playoff caliber teams.
- Evgeni Malkin has 7 of the Penguins’ 16 goals in the last 3 games.
- With tonight’s win, the Penguins snap a four game slide against the Rangers, dating back to last season.
- This was just the 6th divisional win for the Penguins in 12 games this season. It is also just the second win against a divisional opponent other than the Islanders.
Photo courtesy of bellinghamherald.com