NEW YORK – Sean Avery shared a laugh with linemate Jaromir Jagr when the Madison Square Garden crowd served as agent for the agitating forward.
“Re-sign Avery! Re-sign Avery!” was the plea after he scored his second goal of the night and paced the New York Rangers’ 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.
Avery has recovered from wrist injuries that curtailed his season and found his scoring touch. Providing a spark similar to one he created a year ago, Avery scored two goals in a game for the third time in 14 and has 10 goals in 15.
“I know that playing with Jags I’m going to get a lot of chances, and the ice is going to be open,” said Avery, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. “I’ve just got to get in the right position.
“Obviously you feel good any time the home fans chant something like that, for sure.”
Avery provided the offence and Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves for the Rangers, who got back to their winning ways after an empty two-game trip to Florida that ended a 13-game point streak (10-0-3).
Avery gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first period and then provided insurance in the third when New York restored the two-goal edge it squandered in the second.
New York also slowed down the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins, who had won three in a row and racked up 14 goals in their previous two victories without the injured captain.
The Rangers have nine games remaining, all against Atlantic Division opponents. New York is 16-6-1 within the division and will face leading New Jersey on Wednesday.
“If you have two losses in a row, of course you get a little tense, you get a little nervous, but you understand how important this game is, too,” Lundqvist said. “We have a tough game tomorrow and you don’t want to let it slip.”
Crosby, the reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion, missed his third straight and 24th of 27 because of a high ankle sprain, and is expected to sit out at least one more. He watched from a suite along with his father and several fathers of his teammates, who made the trip.
The Rangers kept Evgeni Malkin, the league’s second-leading scorer, without a point and recorded 30 shots on Ty Conklin.
Fredrik Sjostrom snapped a 2-2 tie in the second period for New York, which moved two points ahead of Boston for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are third in the Atlantic Division, four points behind Pittsburgh and five in back of New Jersey.
“I feel more confident than I did yesterday,” Jagr said. “It wouldn’t be easy to play New Jersey after losing three straight.”
Sjostrom stole the puck in the Penguins’ zone, just 44 seconds after Pittsburgh tied it, and scored off a mini breakaway at 3:55.
Avery and Ryan Callahan scored 40 seconds apart in the opening period to stake the Rangers to a 2-0 lead, but that evaporated early in the second when Jarkko Ruutu and Jordan Staal answered 1:33 apart.
Martin Straka made it 5-2 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.
“We have to learn from this and start playing playoff hockey,” Staal said. “We’ve got to cut back on the mistakes. We got back into the game in the second period but we lost focus, made some bad plays. Next thing you know, it’s in the back of the net.”
Avery, robbed earlier in the first period when Conklin covered the open net with a lunging stop with his stick, exacted some revenge when he fired a shot from the right circle into the top corner at 11:07.
Moments after that goal was announced, Callahan made it 2-0 at 11:47. Conklin left a fat rebound in stopping Chris Drury’s drive, and Callahan sent the puck in from the slot.
Conklin, with his father in attendance, slammed the water bottle back on top of the net after taking a frustrated swig.
“He didn’t look sharp,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “This time of year your goalie has to be sharp, if you want to win.”
Any confidence the Rangers took to the dressing room after a pair of lacklustre losses to the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning was gone in the opening 3:11 of the second.
A bad line change by New York created a breakaway for Ruutu. Looking much more like a goal scorer than his season total of three would suggest, Ruutu froze Lundqvist with a head fake, shifted to his backhand, and lifted the puck in to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 1:38.
It was tied 1:33 later. Lundqvist handled the puck at the right post and tried to leave it for Fedor Tyutin, but they turned it over. Pascal Dupuis fed Staal for his 11th goal.
Rangers coach Tom Renney immediately used his timeout, and that paid off when Sjostrom put New York back in front less than a minute later.
“He wasn’t happy about giving up two quick goals like that,” Callahan said. “The main point was just to calm down, regroup and get back to what we were doing in the first.”
Notes: Straka, who added an assist, had gone five games without a point. … Malkin has 17 goals and 24 assists in Crosby’s absence. He has points in 57 of Pittsburgh’s 73 games.