PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Sidney Crosby flicked the puck away from a New York Ranger, darted around another and veered in on Henrik Lundqvist.
The sizzling wrist shot sailed high and wide of the net and ultimately out of play.
Not that it mattered. The message had been sent. For the first time perhaps all post-season, Crosby looked like Crosby.
The fact the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins was hardly a coincidence.
Kris Letang broke a scoreless tie in the second period and Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves for his seventh playoff shutout to lift the Penguins to a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday night, tying the second-round series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Monday in New York.
Crosby’s post-season scoring drought reached 13 games, but after looking lethargic in a Game 1 loss he responded with arguably his best game of the playoffs. The regular-season scoring champion and Hart Trophy finalist pumped out a game-high six shots while providing a spark his team desperately needed.
“To see Sid play like that tonight was really inspiring for everybody in our dressing room,” Letang said. “He was really dangerous.”
The Rangers not so much.
After taking Game 1 in overtime, New York looked very much like a team playing for the fourth time in six days. The Rangers mustered only 22 shots and spent most of the night in their own end relying on the typically brilliant Lundqvist to bail them out.
“They played a little harder than we did in certain areas and for longer and we didn’t sustain it,” New York forward Brad Richards said. “They were desperate. They knew they had to win this game.”
Letang’s 15th career post-season goal matched Larry Murphy’s record for Penguins defencemen. Jussi Jokinen scored during a third-period power play, and Evgeni Malkin added an empty-net goal for the Penguins.
Lundqvist made 32 saves, but the Rangers never threatened to head home with a commanding 2-0 lead. New York’s limp power play went 0 for 4 and hasn’t scored in 29 straight advantages.
The Rangers have lost eight straight Game 2s and have dropped an NHL-record 13 consecutive games when leading in a series.
They had their chances to jump ahead early, only to be let down again by the power play.
Three times in the first 10 minutes a Penguins player trudged to the penalty box, and three times the Rangers spent two minutes skating around as though they were killing time before getting back to even strength.
“It could have given us some momentum but we didn’t finish,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “I’ve got to find the right trigger points here to make it work and we’ll spend the night trying to figure it out.”
While the Rangers search for answers, Crosby appears to have found one. The league’s biggest star has tried to remain positive during his extended funk and coach Dan Bylsma promised early Sunday that his captain would be at his “best” when the moment required.
It certainly looked like it as Crosby relentlessly buzzed around Lundqvist.
“He was all around it on both ends of the rink,” Bylsma said.
Lundqvist made a sprawling right pad save on Crosby midway through the second period to keep the game scoreless, though Lundqvist wasn’t so fortunate the next time the Penguins bore down on him.
Chris Kunitz began a breakout by feeding Malkin at the New York blue line. Malkin slipped the puck over to Letang, who flipped a crossing pass to a streaking Kunitz. Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi dived headfirst to block it only to watch the puck deflect off his stick and past a surprised Lundqvist to give Pittsburgh the lead.
Fleury had little problem letting the one-goal advantage stand up. The Rangers rarely challenged him over the final 30 minutes, and Jokinen and Malkin removed any remaining drama by scoring twice in the last 5 minutes.
Jokinen banged in a rebound off a shot by James Neal for his fourth goal of the playoffs with 3:30 remaining. Malkin beat two Rangers to tap in an empty-net goal with 54 seconds left as the Penguins exhaled.
NOTES: Lundqvist made his 75th career playoff appearance. He will tie Mike Richter’s club record for playoff appearances if he starts as expected on Monday night. … Pittsburgh D Brooks Orpik missed his fourth straight game with an undisclosed injury. … The Penguins are 2-6 in their last eight Game 2s.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP