NEW YORK – Chris Conner started his day at practice in Wilkes-Barre and ended it as a top star on Broadway.
Just hours after being called up by the Penguins, Conner scored twice to lead Pittsburgh to a 4-2 victory over the slumping New York Rangers on Monday night.
It wasn’t the forward’s first time on the big stage, as he had a six-game stint with Pittsburgh this season and a bit of a longer run with the Dallas Stars in previous years, but he made the most of this chance. Conner staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead early in the first period and then netted the winning goal in the third.
“It was great,” he said. “It was kind of a chaotic day, getting called up and stuff. It just felt good to get the win.”
The Rangers grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third, but the Penguins tied it on Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal just 31 seconds later that caromed in off diving Rangers captain Chris Drury. Conner struck for his second of the night – and the season – one minute after Malkin’s goal.
Conner has been on a binge lately, posting five goals and three assists in his last three games in the minors – including a Wilkes Barre/Scranton franchise record five-point night (two goals, three assists) against Syracuse on Friday.
“It’s tough making the decisions sometimes who is going to get that callup,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “Chris Conner had a good weekend, got his callup, and he certainly cashed in with a very good game.”
That offset the big night put up by New York rookie Artem Anisimov, who had his first two-goal NHL game. Anisimov made it 1-1 in the second for the Rangers, who had been shut out in their previous two games. New York has dropped three straight and six of eight (2-5-1), including four shutout losses.
“This one was painful. We battled back,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves. “The second period, we played really well. In the third, it was a bad time to get that penalty and they get a lucky goal on a deflection off our player. We had a bunch of games like this this year, and it would be a different story if we manage to win these.”
Pascal Dupuis’ empty-netter sealed Pittsburgh’s fourth win over the Rangers this season with 39.8 seconds left. That was enough to give a win to Marc-Andre Fleury, who returned from a four-game absence caused by a broken finger.
“I felt pretty good,” Fleury said. “They have been working me pretty hard.”
New York had several chances to score more but couldn’t take advantage of a four-minute power play in the third after Jordan Staal was sent off for high-sticking, and another power play that came a few seconds before Staal left the box.
The Rangers recorded seven shots in the advantage, but Fleury stood up to them and finished with 28 saves.
“They didn’t get a whole lot and the shots they did get, Flower made solid saves,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, “but it wasn’t like they had us hemmed in for four minutes.”
One goal Fleury would like back was Anisimov’s jam shot that was forced in at the right post and then nudged over the line by Fleury’s skate at 9:15. Anisimov has nine goals.
The Rangers broke out of their latest long drought when Anisimov netted the tying goal with 6:56 left in the second. After Christopher Higgins knocked the puck away from defenceman Mark Eaton inside the Pittsburgh blue line, Anisimov cut across the slot and let go a rising shot that beat Fleury.
Anisimov’s first goal in 18 games, was New York’s first in 156 minutes, 32 seconds. The Rangers snapped an earlier power outage of 172 minutes, following another pair of consecutive shutouts, during a 4-1 loss at St. Louis on Jan. 16.
Conner made the most of his time alongside Crosby just 2:47 in. Skating on a 3-on-2 break, Conner took a right-to-left pass from Crosby, glided into the circle and snapped a shot that eluded Lundqvist inside the left post.
Conner took the spot in the lineup vacated by 39-year-old forward Bill Guerin, who was scratched for the first time this season. Conner’s experience with Dallas was a factor in his latest recall.
“One of the things we liked is he played with Mike Modano on a line with Dallas,” Bylsma said. “Getting called up and being asked to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can be a tough call up.”
NOTES: Crosby has six goals and five assists against the Rangers this season. He was chosen as the NHL’s third star of last week after posting three goals and five assists in three games. … Conner had one assist with the Penguins this season. He has eight NHL goals. … Rangers enforcer Donald Brashear returned from a five-game benching. C Erik Christensen sat out.