PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins have been stellar at home this season and unbeatable in shootouts for two years.
The New York Rangers brushed all that aside and played well enough to head into the Olympic break on a winning note.
Brad Richards and Mats Zuccarello scored in a shootout, and the Rangers beat Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night to hand the Penguins a rare loss in the tiebreaker.
“We deserved this win with the way that we played the whole game,” said New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped two of three shots he faced in the shootout. “I don’t know if it was desperation, but we understood how important this game was. We have a long break here and you definitely want to end it the right way.”
Benoit Pouliot scored twice in regulation for the Rangers, who bounced back from a home loss to Edmonton the night before and won for the fifth time in six games.
The Penguins had won all four of their previous shootouts this season and 14 of the past 15 overall. Their most recent loss was two years ago to the day against Montreal.
“It’s not something that happens very often with our group—our shooters and (Marc-Andre Fleury) in net,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “But Henrik is almost as good, and was tonight.”
Zuccarello, the second New York shooter in the tiebreaker, tucked a backhand under the pads of Fleury—who had not allowed a shootout goal all season. Evgeni Malkin beat Lundqvist to extend the game before Richards flipped a shot past Fleury to end it.
Lundqvist made 26 saves, running his winning streak to five games.
“We played a real solid game,” Richards said. “We played hard. They’re going to get goals sometimes, that stuff happens, but we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
James Neal tied it for Pittsburgh with 2:56 left in regulation. It was Neal’s 20th goal of the season and third in three games.
Olli Maatta and Malkin also scored for the Penguins, who lead second-place New York by 16 points in the Metropolitan Division.
The final game day before the Olympic break for both teams began on a somewhat sombre note when the Penguins announced that Kris Letang will be out at least six weeks because of a stroke. Letang, who has been put on blood thinners, also was found to have a small hole in his heart.
“No one expects to hear something like that,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who like the rest of his teammates was informed Friday morning about Letang’s condition. “It’s not something you typically hear about a guy who takes as good care as he does of himself. It was a surprise, but from what we heard, he’s well taken care of and has got it under control.”
Without their top defenceman for the fifth straight game, Pittsburgh allowed 41 shots on goal and had a rare weak penalty-killing effort. The Penguins lost for only the second time in their last 18 home games, ending a five-game home winning streak against the Rangers that dated to 2012.
“Not a good game for us,” Malkin said. “We need to play better; we were lucky to take one point. The last 10 minutes we played, I think, better than the Rangers. But we need to play 60 minutes, and for 60 minutes we weren’t that great.”
Pouliot gave New York a third-period lead when he capped his first multigoal game in almost a year with 10:38 left. Pouliot wristed a rebound of Dan Girardi’s shot up under the crossbar from close range past Fleury for the Rangers’ second power-play goal of the game—the first two goals Pittsburgh’s NHL-best penalty kill allowed at home in a span of 10 games (30 chances).
Girardi also scored on the power play, in the opening minute of the second period.
It took the Rangers 64 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Zuccarello extended his point streak to six games when he earned an assist after Pouliot shoved a puck in that Fleury had pinned between his skate and the right post.
Maatta answered 11 minutes later with the first of two goals on the night for Pittsburgh’s NHL-leading power play, slamming home a rebound of Crosby’s shot into an open net for the rookie’s sixth of the season.
Malkin added a power-play goal in the second period, a one-timed slap shot from outside the right circle off a feed from Neal. The goal, Malkin’s 18th of the season, extended his point streak to five games.
That tied it 2-all at 8:29 of the second after Girardi had scored during the period’s opening minute.
“We definitely played better than we did (Thursday),” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I thought we played with more energy and more focus and more purpose to our game. And we had to—we’re playing against such a strong opponent that we had to bring our ‘A’ game to the table. And I thought 5-on-5 we played a real solid game.”
The Rangers improved to 4-2 in shootouts this season. Pittsburgh had won 22 of 25 shootouts dating to Feb. 26, 2011.
Fleury stopped Pouliot on the Rangers’ first attempt, extending the goalie’s streak to 12 unsuccessful shootout tries by opponents this season.
NOTES: The Penguins fell to 14-1-1 this season when scoring a power-play goal at home. … Pittsburgh has scored a power-play goal in three consecutive games for the first time since doing so in six straight from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7. … The Rangers’ previous win in Pittsburgh was on Jan. 6, 2012.