It was as if someone had switched on a time machine.
In an eerie flashback to the final two Stanley Cup playoff games last April at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins crushed the Blueshirts, 6-1, Wednesday night, forcing starter Henrik Lundqvist to the bench in the second period and sending the Rangers home to their Thanksgiving dinners with a bitter taste.
After the Rangers beat the Penguins, 5-2, in Pittsburgh on Monday with five unanswered goals, Sidney Crosby and Co. turned the tables on the Blueshirts, scoring five straight in the second period after trailing 1-0.
Lundqvist stopped all 10 shots he faced in the first period, then allowed four unanswered goals on seven shots in the first 12:57 of the second. Alain Vigneault replaced him with Antti Raanta, who was in goal on Monday. Raanta allowed the Pens’ fifth goal of the second period with 3:18 left.
“You look at your own performance and see what you can do better, you get a couple extra saves there and it’s a different game,” Lundqvist said. “I know that, everybody knows that. It’s how you respond to that. I know a couple instances there what I have to change. In the first, I was doing those things and I got the result and I then got away from it. In the first, my awareness was good. It wasn’t good enough in the second.”
Lundqvist was not at all sharp in the Game 4 and 5 losses that bounced the Rangers in the first round last season. He surrendered four goals on 18 shots in 26:04 in Game 4 and the Penguins notched six on 23 shots in two periods of Game 5.
Last night, Raanta skated off the bench to relieve Lundqvist after Crosby’s pass on a two-on-one took a wacky bounce off Ryan McDonagh and Lundqvist could only flail with his stick as it floated in for a 4-1 lead. Just 2:45 earlier, Phil Kessel’s laser off a rush down the right side zipped over Lundqvist’s left shoulder after a penalty expired.
McDonagh said: “Our play kind of spoke for itself, to the effect of not giving ourselves a chance at all. I hope everybody holds themselves accountable. It’s not where we want to be. Our veterans are going to help everybody here get back on the same page.’’
With Raanta in, the Rangers (14-6-1) put up very little fight, and the Penguins toyed with the shell-shocked Blueshirts, spending what seemed like an eternity in the offensive zone before Conor Sheary, with a helper from Crosby, his third point, scored at 16:42 and the crowd booed the home team off the ice. With 6:55 to go, Matt Cullen’s deflection extended the lead to 6-1.
“A loss like that makes you look inward,” Chris Kreider said. “It’s better now than later. We have to makes sure it doesn’t snowball.”
How dominant were the Penguins, even in the third? The Rangers had their initial shot on goal with 3:45 left and first in the last 23:59. In all, the Rangers were outshot 38-17.
“We have to learn quick and can’t let it happen again,” Derek Stepan said. “It’s important that we learn from it.”
Crosby finished with two goals and an assist. His 14 goals this season leads the NHL.
Vigneault said: “The game got away from us, it’s tough to explain at this point why.”