NEW YORK, N.Y. – New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault finally took a shot at his club’s taxing post-season schedule, but still won’t say his players are tired.
Judging by their effort in their latest loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he might be right.
The Rangers pressed the pace and widely outshot the talented Penguins, but New York came out on the short end of a 2-0 decision on Monday—their second shutout defeat in two nights.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots one night after making 22 saves at home in a 3-0 Game 2 victory that tied the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Penguins now own a 2-1 lead, have knocked the Rangers back on their heels, and have reclaimed home-ice advantage.
“Back to back nights is not easy,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who gave his club a 1-0 lead with his first goal of these playoffs. “We believe in (Fleury), and with every game, we see him get more and more comfortable. That’s contagious.”
It is the first time the Rangers have been shut out in consecutive playoff games since the 1937 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit.
New York finished its first-round win over Philadelphia with three games in four days—including Games 6 and 7 on consecutive nights—and started this series with three in four again.
“We tried real hard. We were forced to play a stupid schedule—five games in seven nights,” Vigneault said. “I am real proud of how our guys handled it.
“We put our best foot forward in each and every game. Now we’ve got a full day to recover (Tuesday), and we’re going to get right back at it on Wednesday.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has said he wants his team to take advantage of the busy Rangers, but doesn’t believe New York has been worn down.
“I didn’t see a tired Rangers team at all,” he said. “It’s a lot of hockey games, but that’s the schedule. I would much rather be playing in a 10-day period than stretch it out.”
Crosby snapped a 13-game playoff drought with his second-period goal, and Jussi Jokinen also scored. Both goals came right after Pittsburgh killed penalties.
“The main thing is that you get chances and that you are out there creating things, making it tough on them,” Crosby said. “That’s the first step. Eventually you trust that it will go in.”
The Penguins made the most of 15 shots, including just one in the third period.
New York’s futile power play had already slowed down the offence, but now the Rangers can’t score at all. They were 0 for 5 with the advantage Monday, pushing their streak to 34 failed opportunities.
“You might be frustrated right now, but it does no good,” forward Brad Richards said. “We are in the middle of a series, and out of those three games, we played two real good ones.”
The Rangers have consecutive losses in these playoffs for the first time and haven’t scored since winning the opener in overtime. Game 4 is Wednesday in New York.
The tide turned in Pittsburgh’s favour in the second period for the third straight game.
New York had 2:15 remaining on a 4-minute power play that began in the first, but couldn’t cash in. To make matters worse for the Rangers, Crosby took a long stretch pass from defenceman Robert Bortuzzo, outraced Marc Staal, and beat Henrik Lundqvist between the pads from the left circle 19 seconds after James Neal left the penalty box. It was Crosby’s 41st career playoff goal.
The Penguins struck for their second goal right after Jokinen jumped out of the box. He got to a loose puck in the neutral zone after Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello failed to connect on a backward pass in the Pittsburgh end.
Jokinen came in alone and scored his fifth of the playoffs with 4:40 left in the second—8 seconds after his penalty ended.
New York was suddenly down by two and the weight of its anemic power play burdened the team even more. During the Rangers’ last advantage in the second period, the Madison Square Garden crowd implored them to “Shoot the puck!” They did, but to no avail.
“I am happy about our whole team,” Vigneault said. “We played a real strong game. That is one of the best two-way teams in the league.”
The Rangers received their first power play 5:16 in when Marcel Goc was called for roughing Dominic Moore after an icing call.
Neal later got his 4-minute penalty for hitting Jesper Fast in the mouth with his stick with 1:45 remaining. Benoit Pouliot had the best chance during the first half of the advantage when he fired a drive off the right post with 14 seconds left in the period.
Before that, Zuccarello one-timed a pass from Pouliot during 5-on-5 play from the left circle that Fleury snagged with a stretch of his glove.
Lundqvist turned aside Chris Kunitz on a breakaway, for the second time in as many days, during New York’s first power play.
“It’s the first to four wins,” Lundqvist said. “We will take a deep breath here and get ready for Wednesday.
“That’s going to be a very important game for us. This is definitely not over.”
NOTES: Crosby was nominated as a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the “Most Outstanding Player.” He won it last season and in 2007. … The Rangers replaced rugged forwards Daniel Carcillo and Derek Dorsett with Fast and J.T. Miller, and put defenceman Raphael Diaz in for the first time in these playoffs. John Moore sat out.