Chris Kreider scores twice as Rangers beat Penguins
Friday night’s game between the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden had the feel of a playoff preview, with the teams battling for second place in the division and looking very much as though they might be first-round playoff opponents six weeks from now.
In that context, the new-look Rangers, bolstered by the trade deadline acquisitions brought in by general manager Chris Drury in the past week, no doubt sent a message to the Penguins when they jumped on them early and never let up, completing a convincing 5-1 victory.
The way the NHL playoff matchups work, the winners of each division play the two wild-card teams in the first round. The Nos. 2 and 3 teams in each division play each other. Right now, that would mean a Rangers-Penguins matchup. The Rangers (41-19-5, 87 points), who have a game in hand on Pittsburgh, pulled to within one point of the Penguins (39-17-10, 88) in the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Two goals by Chris Kreider — who has 44, tying him with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for second in the league behind Toronto’s Auston Matthews (46) — and three assists by Mika Zibanejad powered the Rangers, who also got goals from Alexis Lafreniere and newcomers Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp.
For Copp, who was acquired from Winnipeg at the trade deadline Monday, it was his first goal as a Ranger.
“Overall, like giving up [few] scoring chances against, and yeah, I was really happy with the way we played all night,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “No turnovers. I mean, very few. So was nothing like the other night [Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in New Jersey], and that’s the way we can play. We played pretty good in Tampa, but tonight was probably our most complete game.’’
Zibanejad said some of the Rangers’ performance could be attributed to the team feeling the need to make up for a poor showing in New Jersey on Tuesday, but not all of it.
“Part of that was that Jersey game, but also, big game against these guys,’’ he said. “We knew we were better than [against the Devils]. We are better than that. And we obviously want to play great and have our best game every night. But that’s not going to happen. And I think the way we responded tonight was a good sign.’’
Lafreniere, who had been taken off the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad and dropped to the third line against the Penguins, got the Rangers started when he jumped into an odd-man rush, took a pass from Filip Chytil and slipped a backhander between the pads of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry at 2:07 of the first period. It was his 14th goal of the season and started a run of three goals in 2:09 for the Rangers.
Kreider scored at 3:58 to make it 2-0 and Vatrano, who had replaced Lafreniere on the top line, finished off a pass from Zibanejad to make it 3-0 at 4:16. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan called his timeout at that point.
Pittsburgh got a chance to get back into the game when Dryden Hunt was given a double-minor penalty for high sticking, giving the Penguins a four-minute power play. But the Rangers killed it off.
“To me, the turning point was killing that four-minute penalty at the end of the first period, because if they were to get one there, it might be a different story,’’ Gallant said. “But you know, it takes a lot out of them when they don’t score in that four-minute power play.’’
The Rangers made it 4-0 at 6:37 of the second period when Kreider finished a shorthanded two-on-one break with a one-timer off a feed from Zibanejad.
Sullivan pulled Jarry at that point, but Casey DeSmith, who replaced him, was forced to leave midway through the period after he was run into by one of his teammates.
Pittsburgh spoiled Igor Shesterkin’s shutout bid with a power-play goal by Jeff Carter at 6:00 of the third period, but Copp scored with 2:13 remaining to make it 5-1.