PITTSBURGH---Penguins coach Dan Bylsma understands the past, present--- and future. The Rangers had won six straight here, so there was something to prove.
“They’re the best team in the East,” Bylsma said after the Penguins blanked the Blueshirts 2-0 with a strong defensive effort and Marc-Andre Fleury’s 27 saves at CONSOL Energy Center. “We know we might have to face the Rangers in the playoffs if we want to get anywhere. We want to make a statement with every chance we get. We get six more periods against them.”
Evgeny Malkin, the league’s leading scorer, beat Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves) on a breakaway backhander early in the second period, then assisted on Steve Sullivan’s power play goal that provided a 2-0 lead and Fleury made big saves when needed for his third shutout of the season and 31st win.
“They got their chances in spurts and we couldn’t finish on Fleury,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella after the Rangers were whitewashed for the sixth time in 15 regulation losses. “We made some mistakes and they capitalized.” But the Pens, who had lost tow of three, had the Rangers pinned from the get-go and Tortorella called a time out with 10:33 left in the first to settle things down.
On Malkin’s goal at 1:05 of the second, Tortorella fingered Michael Del Zotto. “Michael’s been good, but he throws a backhand flipper to the middle of the ice…to nobody…Dumb play." Malkin, who also assisted on Sullivan’s goal and has 73 points in 53 games, took Kris Letang’s carom pass off the boards, sped down the left side, cut in front of Lundqvist and beat him with a pretty backhander over the left pad. Malkin has five goals in the last five games against the Rangers. “You just can’t give Malkin a breakaway,” said Brad Richards, who was on the ice.
On Sullivan’s power-play slapper through traffic at 11:14 of the second with Marc Staal off for tripping, Lundqvist blamed himself. “I felt a little slow. I have to be more aggressive in trying to find the puck,” he said. “There was a part where I was making technical mistakes. I felt better in the third.”
The Rangers had three power plays, but the league’s top penalty-kill at home stifled all of them. On one late in the first, when Ben Lovejoy was in the box for delay of game, the Rangers were forced to ice the puck---a rarity with an extra attacker.
“I thought as the game went along, we created some chances,” said Callahan. “I thought we were coming, unfortunately we can’t get a goal past Fleury. He was good playing the puck behind the net on our dumps and helping them get it out.”
You could count the real good chances on one hand. Fleury stopped John Mitchell’s tuck-in attempt after Mike Rupp found him alone in the slot with an extended right pad. He dove forward to deny a break-in by Artem Anisimov with his glove. Ryan McDonagh rang the far post with a wrister from just above right circle.
Despite the loss, the Blueshirts remain third in the NHL (38-15-5, 81 points) and atop the East, seven ahead of New Jersey and eight clear of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with games in hand. The Penguins play the Rangers twice, including here again in the final week of the season.