Straka followed up a strong backchecking effort that prevented a breakaway, scoring with 2.2 seconds left in overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
“It was a great effort by Marty,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “He did it all.”
The play began at the New York blue-line, where Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin needed to beat only Straka – a forward who had his back turned – for a breakaway. But Straka stripped Malkin of the puck and spun to head the other way.
“I was lucky enough to take the puck there,” Straka said. “I saw there were only 10 seconds left, and I wanted to get to the other end.”
He started with a move around the Penguins’ Nils Ekman at centre ice, then fed the puck to Jaromir Jagr inside the attacking zone.
“I thought he would shoot,” Straka said of Jagr. “But he surprised me.”
Jagr passed to the right point for Michal Rozsival, who spotted Straka darting toward the left edge of the crease. Rozsival went tape-to-tape with a crisp pass that Straka easily buried behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for his 11th goal.
“Rozy made a great pass,” Straka said. “Everybody thought he was going to shoot, and nobody thought he was going to give it to me. But he put it right on my tape. It was an easy goal for me. I just had to put my stick on the ice.”
Jagr, who added a goal in the third period, finished with two points to pass Stan Mikita for 12th place on the career scoring list with 1,468 points. Jagr, who is from the Czech Republic, is now the points leader among European-born players.
Pittsburgh had taken both previous meetings between the teams this season, including one at Mellon Arena a week earlier. Since then, the Rangers have won a season-high three in a row, and the Penguins have lost three straight.
Before Straka scored, Pittsburgh had two golden chances in overtime.
A half-minute into the extra period, Lundqvist abandoned his net in a futile poke-check attempt and was at the mercy of Malkin at the right dot. But Malkin’s flipped backhander grazed off the right post and skipped wide.
“We could have won the game,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “We’re talking about two inches, and we could win the game.”
The other chance came at 3:40, when Jordan Staal was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway by Fedor Tyutin. With the capacity crowd of 17,134 standing and roaring, the 18-year-old Staal tried a backhand move but failed to register a shot as the puck trickled off his stick.
“I thought I saw a little opening,” Staal said. “I tried a little move … and beat myself.”
“It was a good move,” Lundqvist said. “I thought he was going to score.”
Malkin opened the scoring at 10:35 into the second period, on a 5-on-3 power play. Erik Christensen fed Malkin just to the left of Lundqvist, and Malkin roofed a shot for his 12th goal, most among NHL rookies.
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar had the assist for his 500th career point.
Jagr tied the game at 12:15 of the third. His deflection of a Karel Rachunek point shot ricocheted off teammate Jason Ward’s skate and right back to Jagr, who took advantage of Fleury being out of position for his 12th goal.
Jagr, who finished with a game-high seven shots, has four goals in his past three games.
Malkin had been questionable because of a hard hit to his left shoulder Thursday, but showed no lingering effects. He registered six shots and might well have had three or four goals. He narrowly missed the top left corner of the net on a clean break late in regulation.
Through two periods, the Penguins had a one-goal lead and a 22-15 edge in shots. But New York had a 12-4 edge in shots in the third and dominated play.
“I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the first two periods,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “We needed an extraordinary effort in the third period, not just to tie it but to win it, and we got that. It was just one of those games where it certainly could have swung either way.”
Therrien praised the Penguins’ general play.
“I’m not only pleased. I’m proud of the effort,” he said. “We deserved better.”
Pittsburgh is 0-1-2 since Sidney Crosby left the lineup because of a sore groin. He tested the injury in the morning skate Saturday before deciding against a return.
“I’m a lot closer than I was three or four days ago,” Crosby said. “I’m just waiting for that turnaround day where I’m not going to feel much at all.”
Crosby could return for the Penguins’ next game Tuesday.