It was a gut-wrenching loss for the Rangers.
A ghastly turnover by captain Ryan McDonagh proved costly. The defenseman skated from behind his net and gave the puck away to Penguins forward Phil Kessel, who fed a wide-open Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 overtime win. It extended the Rangers’ winless streak to four and dropped their record to 1-5-1, their worst mark to open a season since 1959-60.
“A costly mistake, obviously huge,” said McDonagh. “I let the team down in overtime. I should be able to make a read there and keep it on the boards instead of trying to go through them. A really, really bad hockey play by me.”
It wasn’t the only significant error. In an electric third period that began with the score tied at 3, the teams traded goals. At the eight-minute mark, David Desharnais, who had scored earlier, sped down the right side and fed Michael Grabner, cutting in front to provide the 4-3 lead. As time wound down, it seemed that the Rangers were on their way to two points, but goalie Matt Murray was pulled for an extra attacker with two minutes left and Sidney Crosby banked a shot off Henrik Lundqvist’s stick for the 4-4 tie with 55.3 left.
On that play, Kevin Shattenkirk touched a puck that would have been ruled a hand-pass, stopping play as Crosby waited, and pounced from a sharp angle. Shattenkirk did not meet with the media afterward, but Lundqvist said he was taken by surprise. “It’s not the first time that’s happened,” Lundqvist said. “As a goalie, you need to make sure you’re alert. I didn’t have any luck. To not come up with two points, it hurts.”
The Blueshirts fell behind 2-0 in the first period. Just 43 seconds in, Kessel beat Lundqvist with a high wrister from the right circle off the rush. Later, former Ranger Carl Hagelin, coming down the right side on a two-on-one caught Lundqvist leaning away a little from the post at 13:30. It was the sixth start for Lundqvist (28 saves), who is 1-3-1.
But in a remarkable second period rally, the Blueshirts — who had scored just 13 times in the first six games — scored three straight goals in 2:30. Desharnais cut the lead to 2-1 when he ripped a shot from the left boards into the bottom corner of the net, his first goal as a Ranger, at 6:02.
The Rangers then potted two power-play goals on a double-minor penalty for the first time since Feb. 17, 2016 against the Blackhawks. Crosby’s backhanded swipe caught Jimmy Vesey in the face, drawing blood and a four-minute high-sticking penalty. Pavel Buchnevich tied the score from between the circles at 7:32 and J.T. Miller, who had a three-point night, unleashed a slapper from the left point at 8:32 to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
However, with the momentum and a chance to pad the lead on a five-on-three with Crosby and Hagelin boxed for slashing three seconds apart, the Rangers overpassed and then lost the two-man advantage when Chris Kreider foolishly cross-checked a Penguin after being shoved from behind by Murray. Patric Hornqvist scored on the power play with 1:59 left in the second to tie it at 3, setting the stage for another disappointment.
“We got the goal we needed [from Grabner],” said Marc Staal, “We just weren’t able to close it out. It’s tough to find wins right now.”