PITTSBURGH - After a bitter loss to the lowly Oilers on Thursday night, the Rangers headed into the two-week Olympic break with a critical win Friday night, knocking off the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins, 4-3, in a shootout.
"It's just a great feeling to end it on a high note," said Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped Sidney Crosby and Jussi Jokinen in the shootout before Brad Richards won it in the third round, beating Marc-Andre Fleury. That sent the Penguins to their first shootout loss in two years (10 games).
"We played with a lot more energy and determination," said Lundqvist, who now heads to Sochi to backstop Team Sweden. "I don't know if it was desperation, but we understood how important this game was to us. We have a long break here and we definitely wanted to end it the right way."
In the final game for both teams and with seven players on each side headed to Russia, the Rangers (32-24-3) won their fifth in six tries. "We've been on a roll, but so are teams around us," Lundqvist said. "We have to continue to push ourselves."
The Penguins tied the score at 1-1 and 2-2 with the league's best power play in the first 40 minutes. Benoit Pouliot scored his second goal of the game and 11th of the season at 9:24 of the third period on the power play to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
"I'm just trying to use my strength, my body," said Pouliot, who was awarded the Broadway Hat. "But we've been on a good run lately."
At even strength, the Penguins' James Neal tied the score at 3-3 with 2:56 left. "They keep coming, and when they get some momentum, the crowd gets into it, but we didn't let it get away," Marc Staal said. "We had a couple big kills in the third."
Reversing Thursday's sluggish start in a 2-1 loss to the Oilers, the Rangers scored at 1:04 when Pouliot banged in a rebound at the right post. With the assist, Mats Zuccarello, who also scored in the shootout, extended his point streak to six games.
But the Penguins (40-15-3) began turning things around. Lundqvist stopped Neal's wrister, and when Brian Gibbons sprung Crosby for a breakaway, Lundqvist came up big.
When Carl Hagelin, who also is playing for Sweden, went off for interference, Lundqvist kicked out Crosby's slapper, but the Penguins stalked the crease, and Olli Maatta swept in a rebound on his backhand at 11:43 of the first.
At the start of the second, the Rangers responded with their own power-play goal. With Neal in the box for slashing Chris Kreider, Pouliot screened Fleury and Dan Girardi's slapper from the left point found the far corner at 0:34 for a 2-1 lead. The goal broke an 0-for-14 drought with the man advantage.
After Rick Nash dumped Maatta from behind at 8:11, Evgeni Malkin's power-play slapper from the right circle at 8:29 knotted the score again.
For Lundqvist, who had 26 saves to Fleury's 38, relief was mixed with anticipation. "Mentally now I'm switching gears," he said. "It's going to be a real challenge. I'm putting on the yellow and blue and I'm not going to talk to anybody on this team except Hagelin."