Penguins beat Rangers, 4-1, at the Garden

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers in action against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Jan. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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The Penguins Thursday night proved they're a dangerous team even without Sidney Crosby.

Evgeni Malkin scored a beautiful goal 7:10 into the third period to extend a one-goal lead and sealed it with an empty-netter as Pittsburgh beat the Rangers, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden.

It was the fourth straight win for the Penguins, who still are without Crosby and Jordan Staal but have plenty of impressive players, including key defenseman Kris Letang, who returned after a 21-game absence. Letang picked up his 17th assist on Malkin's first goal, which gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead.

Malkin, who is the league's leading scorer with 54 points, has scored seven goals in the last four games. His first came when he skated around a sliding Michael Del Zotto and roofed a backhander while cutting in front of Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves).

Former Islander Richard Park gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 2:23 of the third period when he converted a three-on-one rush from the left side while Marc Staal pinched with three forwards deep. "I was going down when they were coming up," Staal said. "It was the wrong move. I was feeling pretty good tonight; it was a mental mistake."

Staal played a season-high 26:02 as coach John Tortorella limited rookie defenseman Stu Bickel to 5:19 and Anton Stralman to 11:59.

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So the next stop for the up-and-down Rangers (29-12-4), who have 62 points but have lost three of their last five, is Boston for a matinee Saturday. The Bruins (61 points) beat the Devils, 4-1, Thursday night.

The Rangers' power play, ranked 24th in the NHL, continues to struggle. It went 0-for-2 Thursday night and is 0-for-14 and 1-for-27. Before the game, Tortorella called it a "double-edged sword" because some goals five-on-four might help some players who are slumping. On the other hand, not generating anything on the power play is debilitating in close games.

With the Penguins leading 1-0 in the second period, Lundqvist refused to bite on a deke and denied Craig Adams alone on the doorstep, and Carl Hagelin tied the score shortly thereafter.

Ryan McDonagh fed Marian Gaborik along the right side of the neutral zone and the winger flipped a backhanded cross-ice pass to Hagelin, who was streaking toward the left faceoff circle. The Swedish speedster drove in on Marc-Andre Fleury (30 saves) and his wrister squeezed between Fleury's pads at 10:06.

Hagelin had three assists in the previous five games, but it was his first goal since Dec. 30. It was Gaborik's third assist in the last three games as that line, with Derek Stepan, has been a factor in January.

The Penguins dominated early (they had eight shots on goal before the Rangers got their first one) and took a 1-0 lead at 3:16 of the first. Paul Martin's shot rebounded in front to Chris Kunitz, whose rising shot hit the water bottle under the crossbar.

"It's not the start we wanted to have," Ryan Callahan said. "We didn't find a way to sustain any pressure. We didn't get the dumps we needed to; they got the puck out of the zone pretty easy. Throughout the year, we've responded after losses, and we have to make sure we do the same going into Boston."

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