Should the Rangers and Penguins meet in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans in both New York and Pittsburgh would be in for a real treat based on the exciting, evenly-played contest that took place with playoff-type intensity at the CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night.
The end result was a 2-1 shootout victory for the Penguins after the Rangers rallied to tie the game late in the third period. The Rangers earned their 40th point of the season by reaching overtime and moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Jussi Jokinen was the only player for either team to score in the shootout, beating Henrik Lundqvist in the first round. Marc-Andre Fleury---who was sensational with 34 saves through regulation and overtime---denied Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan Callahan during the shootout. Lundqvist finished with 26 saves through 65 minutes of play.
Trailing 1-0 with just 4:49 to play in the third period Nash zipped a snap shot under Fleury's arm to tie the game, and ultimately force overtime and the shootout. Nash's team-high 14th goal of the season came directly off a clean Derek Stepan faceoff win in the left circle of the offensive zone, and right after a video review upheld the on-ice call that Derick Brassard's tricky left wing shot had not crossed the goal line.
Jokinen had snapped a scoreless tie thirty seconds into the third period to give Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead. Acquired on Wednesday from Carolina, Jokinen netted his seventh goal of the season in his Penguin debut. Chris Kunitz fed the puck from behind the net into the left circle where Jokinen wristed it high to the far side for the game's first goal.
Fleury helped preserve the lead with several big saves, including an absolute gem---bursting from right to left across his crease to rob a wide-open Stepan at the post with an incredible glove save---at the 8:30 mark of the third period.
The Rangers stayed within striking distance by killing off a Brian Boyle penalty at 10:15 of the third. The visitors killed off both Penguin power plays on Friday.
Things became quite heated after Boyle's penalty---in which Kunitz was crushed into the boards. James Neal was flattened by Michael Del Zotto, then Boyle---just out of the box---was upended into the back boards by Douglas Murray. Moments later Matt Cooke stood in front of the Rangers benched yelling at the visitors---in particular Ryane Clowe, and when he shoved Nash, Zuccarello stepped in and shoved him right back.
Pascal Dupuis then took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 13:09, and just two seconds after Piitsburgh killed it off, Nash scored the tie-breaking goal.
With 1:54 to play in overtime Dan Girardi flung Evgeni Malkin to the ice when the Pens superstar whacked away several times at Lundqvist's pads after the Rangers netminder had saved a shot by Dupuis.
The save of the night was made by Fleury with eight seconds remaining in the five-minute overtime period, when he somehow made a one-on-one left pad save on a wide-open Stepan after a drop feed from Nash off the rush.
The first period was fairly wide open with the two teams trading a string of prime scoring chances, and the Rangers holding a 13-11 shots advantage. Anton Stralman's redirection off the rush on a pretty Ryan Callahan was perhaps the Rangers best chance in the opening 20 minutes, and Nash fired four shots on goal---including a tricky backhander from the slot which Fleury managed to keep out of the net.
It was also a physical first period, with Steve Eminger standing out with a series of big hits including one that flattened the rugged Matt Cooke along the boards at center ice. Clowe also dropped the gloves for his first fight as a Ranger, battling Derek Engellend.
At the toher end of the ice Lundqvist was sharp, while also receiving a lift from Carl Hagelin who swept a loose puck off the goal line before any Penguin could get a stick to it midway through the period.
Things tightened up a bit more in the second period as the Penguins outshot New York 9-6, though the Rangers continued to do an excellent job of getting the puck deep in the offensive zone and batter the Penguins on the forecheck. Fleury made a pair of flashy glove saves during the second on shots from the slot by Stepan and Arron Asham.