The Rangers exploded for eight goals Tuesday night, stunning the Pittsburgh Penguins, 8-4 at Madison Square Garden, in the first game of a two-game set between the teams.
It was the third time this season the Rangers had scored at least eight goals – the other two instances coming against the Philadelphia Flyers – and with the win, the Blueshirts were able to keep pace in the playoff chase with the Boston Bruins, who currently hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. The Bruins beat the Flyers Tuesday, and lead the Rangers and Flyers by five points in the standings.
It was also the first time in 11 years that eight Rangers scored in a game.
The Rangers’ biggest guns did the most damage against the Penguins: Artemi Panarin had a goal and three assists, and Adam Fox extended his scoring streak to 11 games, with a goal and two assists. But while so many things went right offensively for the Rangers, one of the most encouraging signs for the Rangers’ long term success was seeing their two youngest players, 19-year-old Alexis Lafreniere and 20-year-old Kaapo Kakko, each score goals. And their centerman, 21-year-old Filip Chytil, had two assists.
"It's obviously nice when they're able to get on the board and help the team,’’ said Mika Zibanejad, who had an early goal and an assist himself. "You see the little signs every day. They're good players, and it's nice to see them get rewarded… I thought they played really well, and I thought they play with more confidence now.’’
Coach David Quinn had jumbled the forward lines a bit when he decided to put grinding forward Colin Blackwell up with Panarin and Ryan Strome, and that move paid instant dividends, when Blackwell got the Rangers started with his goal at 1:35 of the opening period.
The lead became 2-0 when Zibanejad banged in the rebound of a Pavel Buchnevich shot at 7:28, and 3-0 when Panarin scored a power-play goal at 9:58.
Pittsburgh got on the board at 10:38, on a power-play goal by Jared McCann, with Ryan Lindgren in the box, but then Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin took a holding penalty and Strome scored on the power play to make it 4-1 at 19:42.
The score at the end of the first period might have been a little deceiving, though. Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin had a lot to do with keeping the Rangers in front. Pittsburgh outshot the Rangers 18-11 in the first period and 31-18 over the first two periods.
"It was a funny game I'll tell you that,’’ said Quinn, who didn’t look all that happy. "I just thought we were very opportunistic. Our power play was very good (3-for-3)… and we found a way to win tonight. But I think, if you talk to our guys, we realize that we're gonna have to play better than that if we're going to win consistently.
"That being said, it's hard to win in this league, and we're certainly happy with the two points,’’ he said. "But you know, our goalie made some big saves, and we were just very opportunistic.’’
Lafreniere scored at the end of a long and productive shift in the offensive zone to put the Rangers up, 5-1 at 12:20 of the period. But Pittsburgh got a goal back just 15 seconds later from defenseman Mike Matheson, who beat Shesterkin (41 saves) over the catching glove with a hot wrist shot that may or may not have ticked off the stickblade of Trouba.
Kakko’s goal, a deflection on a power play at 6:10 of the third period, made it 6-2, but Jake Guentzel scored at 8:04 to pull Pittsburgh within 6-3.
With Buchnevich serving a tripping penalty, Fox scored a shorthanded goal at 10:22 to make it 7-3, and Buchnevich scored just seconds after exiting the box to make it 8-3, at 10:41. Dumoulin accounted for the final score, with a goal at 18:36.