PITTSBURGH — Eight days before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes continued to do their part to raise the Rangers’ asking price for them.
The two free-agent-to-be forwards totaled three goals in the Rangers’ 6-5 loss to the Penguins on Sunday afternoon, with Zuccarello getting the first two. Hayes, who also had an assist, got a late goal to trigger a comeback attempt that fell just short.
Two goals each by Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang led the Penguins, who broke open a 3-3 game by scoring three straight goals in the third period after killing off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Sidney Crosby.
Crosby’s stick got up underneath the eye shield of Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk late in the second period. Pionk left and did not return “for precautionary reasons,’’ coach David Quinn said.
Quinn said the Rangers’ failure to take advantage of the extended power play was the turning point.
“We got demoralized and they got a new set of energy and a new lift, and the whole complexion of the game changed,’’ Quinn said about the Penguins’ big penalty kill. “And it was really unfortunate because, battling back from down 3-1 and putting ourselves in the position we did — there’s a lot of good signs. But to be that flat on your power play and to not really generate much certainly gave the crowd and [the Penguins] a lot of life.’’
Forty-nine seconds after Crosby exited the penalty box, Letang scored his second goal of the game — with Crosby getting an assist — to put the Penguins up 4-3 at 4:36 of the third. Malkin’s first goal, at 7:24 off a feed from Phil Kessel behind the net, made it 5-3.
Malkin made it 6-3 at 9:55 with his second goal, a Top 10 candidate that came on a spinning, no-look backhander into the top corner against Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (35 saves).
Zuccarello didn’t agree that the failed four-minute power play was the reason the Penguins broke out.
“Their goalie made some good saves and unfortunately they get a goal right after [the power play ended], and that’s hockey sometimes,’’ Zuccarello said. “But we let it slip, we gave them three right away. We’ve got to manage the puck, manage the game a little bit better than that.’’
Hayes’ goal at 14:14 — his 14th — gave the Rangers some life and Mika Zibanejad scored his 26th with 18 seconds left to make it 6-5. But the Penguins (31-21-7) held on.
Zibanejad has at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games (the Rangers were shut out twice) and has 14 goals and nine assists in that span.
The Rangers (25-25-8) are 11 points out of a playoff spot.
The teams exchanged own goals in the first period, with Letang getting the Penguins on the board first when he banked a centering pass off Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s skate and in at 16:11. But the Rangers tied it on their first power play when Zuccarello’s attempted feed to Zibanejad was deflected in by Penguins center Teddy Blueger with 39.2 seconds left in the period.
Marcus Pettersson’s power-play goal at 11:41 of the second period put the Penguins back in front, and Brian Dumoulin’s goal at 14:09 made it 3-1.
The Rangers scored the next two in the second period to tie it. Zuccarello nudged the puck across the goal line at 14:35 for his 11th goal after Zibanejad’s shot trickled through Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith (39 saves). Ryan Strome’s eighth goal, which was unassisted, tied it at 3-3 at 17:45.