Some early roughhousing and a strong second period of attacking play by the home team tended to turn the focus away from Crosby's aesthetics of graceful craftsmanship. And, in the end, helped produce a tense 4-3 victory over Crosby and the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
Latest Rangers stories
Exactly a year since he last played the Garden, Crosby assisted on two goals and drew the usual boos from Rangers fans uninterested in seeing his magic. John Tortorella joined them, insisting he "didn't even watch" Crosby. "I'm too busy watching our team."
The crowd preferred seeing ruffian Sean Avery in the starting lineup, and rejoiced when Avery tried to pick a fight with Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy 16 seconds after the opening faceoff. Their scuffle was broken up immediately and both received roughing penalties, only to earn majors for doing a fighting duet as soon as they left the sin bin.
Though nothing like Saturday's pugnacious event against Philadelphia, the Rangers did set about pushing Pittsburgh around and ultimately outshot the Penguins, 30-27. It was the Rangers (13-5-3) seventh straight victory at home and a sixth loss in its last seven road games for Pittsburgh (14-7-4).
Second-period goals by Ryan Callahan, John Mitchell, Brad Richards and Marian Garorik, for a 4-1 Rangers' lead, put Pittsburgh on its heels. But Evgeni Malkin's rebound with 6.1 seconds left in the second period, and Pascal Dupuis' goal during a delayed penalty at 3:49 of the third ratcheted up the pressure again.
Crosby, finally recovered from concussions suffered last January, has 11 points in the five games since his return. He has been so good in his comeback that he actually picked up an assist on a day off, when the league awarded him the point on Monday for his pass to Jordan Staal in Saturday's game at Montreal.
Crosby's precise pass, directed from the right boards during a power play, set up James Neal's 14th goal to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 17:56 of the first period. And, while nothing terribly serious bubbled up from the stew of early Rangers penalties, Crosby assured that he is "comfortable going into traffic areas and playing a physical game, so that's something I don't have to think about a lot."
More bothersome to Pittsburgh was the Rangers' offense in the second period. At 8:01, Gaborik stickhandled through the left circle and fed Callahan for a tap-in at the right post for a 1-1 tie. Mitchell, the recent call-up from Connecticut, snapped a shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's left shoulder at 14:09.
Seconds later, Richards beat Fleury with a rising shot on his glove side and Gaborik tipped in a pass from Michael Del Zotto at 18:26.
An apparent goal by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke was waved off late in the period when a review showed Cooke had struck the puck above his shoulder before it bounced off goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Michael Sauer before rattling in.
Clinging to the lead in the third, "I don't know if we were calm," Lundqvist said. "But I thought we kept playing aggressive and did a good job."