PITTSBURGH — After a resounding 7-2 loss on Tuesday, the Rangers were as harsh on themselves as they have been all season.
“We didn’t show up to play,” said an angry J.T. Miller after the Rangers were overwhelmed by the Penguins. “Our worst start of the season, we were lazy and they got all the momentum early. Then they outplayed us in every aspect of the game and we hung our goalie out to dry. We were awful.”
It seemed as if every star on the Penguins scored: Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Patrik Hornqvist scored power-play goals and Evgeny Malkin has an even-strength goal and two assists.
The Blueshirts, who were playing their ninth game in 15 days, couldn’t keep pace in what evolved into a resounding loss with Antti Raanta facing 47 shots, 22 in the first period. Even though Michael Grabner’s goal over Matt Murray’s blocker early in the third trimmed the Penguins lead to 3-2, the home side scored four straight goals, mostly on odd man rushes.
“We weren’t defending and when you give a team like that space to makes some plays, they’re going to make you pay,” said Dan Girardi. “Rants kept us in it and what happened in the third was really unacceptable for this group. We can’t fool ourselves; they were the superior team tonight. We just opened ourselves up. They were flying and we were watching.”
Coach Alain Vigneault, who had sarcastically described the recent schedule as “lovely,” said that he knew from the beginning of the season, certain games would be very challenging. “I knew this one was going to be one of those. The schedule caught up to a couple guys.”
With the win, the Penguins, clearly desperate after two losses, raised their record to 21-7-5, tied with the Rangers (23-11-1) for first place in the Metro Division with 47 points.
After Grabner’s goal had trimmed the lead to 3-2, the Penguins responded with two goals in 2:01 to slam the door. Justin Schultz put a wrister past Raanta after Ryan McDonagh accidentally backed into him and Bryan Rust then tipped in Crosby’s shot. Hornqvist’s power-play goal — the Pens’ third tally of the period — after a pretty passing sequence and on the 42nd shot for the home side, only mattered in his stats.
The defending Stanley Cup champions dominated the first period, starting in the first 1:48, with five shots on Raanta and had the Blueshirts on their heels. Then the NHL’s fourth ranked penalty-kill almost erased Kevin Klein’s double-minor for high-sticking Carl Hagelin in the mouth at 2:19. But with just 34 seconds left shorthanded, Crosby, from between the circles, re-directed Ian Cole’s shot under the crossbar for his 22nd goal. Raanta had no chance.
The Rangers tied it at 1 at 16:59. Matt Puempel fired a high shot that Murray tried to swat with his glove and the puck went off the mitt and past his shoulder to tie the score at 1. But Murray stopped all 14 Rangers attempts in the second period, and left the ice with a 3-1 lead.
The Rangers were 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Penguins were 3-for-5.
“For the whole team it was a good learning experience,’’ said Raanta. “It’s tough to take but you learn from it.”
Each of the three games between these teams has been lopsided. Behind Raanta, the Rangers won 5-2 here on Nov. 21. Two days later, the Penguins drilled Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden, 6-1. The teams don’t meet again until March 31 and then in the final game of the season, both at the Garden.