NEW YORK – Henrik Lundqvist became the fifth NHL goalie to start a career with four 20-win seasons, and the New York Rangers turned their struggling power play into a plus in a 4-0 victory over the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.
Lundqvist (20-11-3) made 27 saves for his first shutout of the season and 18th overall. He is the fourth Rangers goalie to post four consecutive 20-win seasons.
The Rangers, who were 1-for-17 with the man advantage during a 1-3-1 slide, got power-play goals from Nigel Dawes and defenceman Paul Mara and jumped over idle New Jersey and Philadelphia to regain first place in the Atlantic Division, a position they held all season until last weekend.
Chris Drury sealed it with a third-period goal, and Scott Gomez scored short-handed into an empty net with 3:11 left.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are in a free-fall. The defending Eastern Conference champions have dropped five straight, six of seven, and seven of nine to fall below the playoff cutoff halfway through the season. They have only eight goals in seven games.
Sidney Crosby was held without a point for the third straight game, and Evgeni Malkin – the NHL scoring leader – has only two assists in seven games.
Lundqvist, a late switch to backup duties Saturday at Washington due to a stomach bug, showed no ill effects in earning his ninth win over Pittsburgh in 13 games. He stopped all 12 shots in the Penguins’ power-play filled first period and eight more in the second.
His best save came against Malkin, who raced in on a 2-on-0 rush with Petr Sykora and ripped a rising drive that Lundqvist knocked aside with his left shoulder. He denied Crosby late in the second period on the doorstep, and the frustrated Pittsburgh captain smacked his stick against the glass.
Crosby heard boos and derisive chants all night and was called for two penalties one game after taking 21 minutes – including his second NHL fight – in a 6-1 loss to Florida on Saturday.
The Penguins were 0-for-24 on the power play in their previous six games and failed on all eight chances against the Rangers – including five in the first period when they fell behind 1-0. Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 advantage that would have lasted a full two minutes, but it was cut short by Jordan Staal’s interference penalty after the Penguins generated only one shot.
Dawes wasted no time in helping the Rangers jump out to the lead, scoring his seventh of the season in his 100th NHL game. Maxime Talbot went off for boarding Ryan Callahan just 31 seconds after the opening faceoff, and Dawes converted at 1:00. His shot from the left circle hit the shaft and Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi and found its way between Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads.
After Pittsburgh was given a power play in the second period, Crosby wiped it out just two seconds in when he interfered with Blair Betts on the ensuing faceoff.
The Rangers made the most of the second two-second power play of the middle frame when Mara ripped a drive in from the high slot at 17:27 after Gomez cleanly won a faceoff back to him.
Drury made it 3-0, scoring his 11th of the season with 7:30 left.
Notes: Pittsburgh has lost eight straight regular-season games in New York (0-5-3). … The Penguins are 4-for-14 on two-man advantages this season. … It was the fourth straight time the teams met in the regular season at Madison Square Garden. The final three games of the six-game season series will be played in Pittsburgh. … The Rangers have scored on the power play in eight of 10 games against Pittsburgh. … Dawes has three goals and three assists in five games. … Pittsburgh has gone five games without a point for the first time since dropping 10 straight in January 2006.