Rangers top Penguins, move into second place
PITTSBURGH – The NHL schedule makers got this one right. Saving all these Rangers-Penguins games for the stretch run of the season is producing some really fun, high-stakes hockey as the season barrels toward the end.
The teams are locked into a battle for second place in the Metropolitan Division, with home-ice advantage in the likely first-round playoff matchup between the teams the prize for the winner. And the Rangers’ 3-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday allowed the Blueshirts to leapfrog the Penguins and take a one-point lead in the race for second, with 15 games left in the regular season.
“I said before the game it’s understanding you’re one point behind them and… it's a big game coming in here,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “So we were [thinking] ‘Let's go play a good hockey game again tonight.’ And just because we beat them in our building pretty good [five] days ago, we know we're going to get challenged tonight. And we played a really good hockey game tonight. I’m so proud of our group. They played great.’’
Chris Kreider’s 45th goal, on aa power play scored on the rebound of a shot off the back boards by Adam Fox, had given the Rangers a 3-1 lead at 1:06 of the third period, but Sidney Crosby scored a power-play goal of his own at 10:37 of the period to pull Pittsburgh within 3-2. But the Rangers were able to hang on to beat the Penguins for the second straight time and improve to 43-19-5, good for 91 points. The Penguins (40-18-10) have 90, and have played one more game.
The teams have one more regular-season game remaining against each other, April 7 at Madison Square Garden.
The victory, combined with the Islanders’ win over Columbus, reduced the Rangers’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot to eight points, meaning any combination of points gained by the Rangers, or lost by the Blue Jackets totaling eight would get the Rangers into the playoffs.
The Rangers had a little more control of the puck in the first two periods, and had more shots on goal (9-5) in the first, but fell behind 1-0 when Pittsburgh got a goal by former Ranger Brian Boyle, who made a pretty deflection of a shot by Brian Dumoulin and got it past Igor Shesterkin (22 saves) at 14:24 of the first.
But the Rangers weren’t discouraged by the score, according to Kreider.
“We went into the room after the first period down 1-0, but I think we liked where our game was at,’’ Kreider said. “They did have a push in the third, got us on our heels a little bit, which we didn't totally like, and ended up taking a couple of penalties as a result. But they're good team, and they're trying to win the hockey game, too. So overall, good, good team effort. Good road win.’’
Red-hot Frank Vatrano scored his 15th goal of the season – and his fifth in seven games with the Rangers since his March 16 trade from Florida – to tie it, 1-1, at 15:32. The goal, assisted by Mika Zibanejad and Kreider, was Vatrano’s fourth in the three games he’s played on the top line.
Then, rookie Braden Schneider jumped up to a three-on-three rush into a four-on-three, and Artemi Panarin dropped it back to him for a one-timer that beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry at 17:04 to make it 2-1.
Schneider said Panarin’s pass to him was “on a platter.’’
“I didn't even look at the net,’’ Schneder said. “I just shot it.’’