In a match between the first and second place teams in the Metropolitan division, the New York Rangers won the night. Getting a shootout goal from Brad Richards, the Rangers defeated the Penguins, 4-3. The shootout loss ended a long streak for the Penguins, dating back to 2012. Both teams will now be off till the end of February, as many members from both teams take the flight to Sochi to compete for their home country.
The New York Rangers scored early period goals in both the first and the second period, striking first only 1:04 into the game as Benoit Pouliot scored his first of the game and tenth of the season. In both instances, the Penguins answered on the powerplay, tying the game with goals from rookie defenseman Olli Maatta and Evgeni Malkin. Maatta, who also had an assist in the game, will be expected to carry a much bigger role for the Penguins in the near future, as it was announced Friday that star defenseman Kris Letang will miss six weeks. Letang suffered a stroke last week before a game against Los Angeles.
Pouliot struck again midway through the third period, as a shot from defenseman Dan Girardi bounced off the backboards right to Pouliot in front of the net. Pouliot quickly lifted the puck past the goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give the New York Rangers the lead. For a while, that goal appeared to be the game winner. However, with just under three minutes remaining in the game, forward James Neal scored his twentieth goal of the season to tie the game at three. Neal snuck in, virtually undetected, behind the Rangers’ defense and, taking a feed from the boards, rifled the puck past Henrik Lundqvist. The goal stood up until the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
After putting up 68 shots in regulation, neither team could get much going in the overtime period, with the Rangers registering the only shot during the period. With neither team scoring, the game went to a shootout. Before the game, the Penguins had won their previous nine games that went into a shootout and 14 of their last 15. But in the end, the Rangers were given the edge. Neither team could score in the first round in the shootout, with Jussi Jokinen hitting the post for the Penguins and Benoit Pouliot missing the net on his attempt. But in the second round, Mats Zuccarello scored for the Rangers while Sidney Crosby, who earned his 50th assist of the season on Maatta’s first period goal, was stopped by Lundqvist. Evgeni Malkin tied the shootout in the third round, firing the puck past the New York goaltender. Brad Richards ended the game and the Penguins shootout streak, giving his team the close victory.
Richards will be one of players that will get some rest in the upcoming weeks, having not been invited to Team Canada’s Olympic squad. But for others, like the Penguin’s Sidney Crosby and the Rangers’ Rick Nash, their focus turns to Sochi and earning yet another gold for Team Canada, winners of the Men’s Ice Hockey gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. But for tonight, the New York Rangers get the two points in the standings that they needed to stay ahead of a tightly packed playoff race, as they edge the Penguins in the shootout, 4-3.
By Jonathan Gardner