NEW YORK – Playing in the Big Apple might suit the kid from Columbus just fine.
Nikolai Zherdev built off a happy homecoming and scored the tying goal with 8.1 seconds left, and Fredrik Sjostrom netted the only goal of the shootout in the New York Rangers’ stirring 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
The 23-year-old Zherdev came to the Rangers from the Columbus Blue Jackets in an off-season trade, hoping to show the enormous potential that made him the No. 4 pick in the 2003 draft.
Zherdev had gone four games without a point before posting a goal and two assists in a successful return to Columbus on Friday. His wrist shot from the right circle Saturday sailed over Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder to tie it at 2.
“All that matters is that the team wins,” Zherdev said. “Back-to-back games, everyone is tired. It’s a big four points.”
Late heroics are nothing new to Zherdev, who scored the tying goal for the Blue Jackets with 23 seconds left against Chicago with an end-to-end rush on Dec. 26, 2005.
“It was a great, great shot,” said Rangers coach Tom Renney, who was back behind the bench one night after being whacked in the head by a stick during the Columbus game. “It should really help develop the fibre of our team. We really came back with the game plan.”
The Penguins had their three-game winning streak snapped despite entering the third period with a 2-0 lead. Fleury made 42 saves, but couldn’t deny Zherdev and Sjostrom, who helped the Rangers improve to 8-2-1.
Sidney Crosby, who scored his third goal in four games, had a chance to match Sjostrom’s third-round shootout goal but was forced wide right by Henrik Lundqvist and couldn’t score from a tough angle.
Sjostrom tucked the puck inside the right post with a backhand in the final round of the shootout. Markus Naslund also scored for New York.
“We were winning all game long,” Fleury said. “A goal with only eight seconds left, it’s always a bad break.”
The Penguins outshot the Rangers 4-2 in a fast-paced overtime, but trailed overall 44-29.
After Crosby fired wide at the empty net in the closing seconds of the third, Naslund rushed the puck up ice and found Zherdev with a pass. The speedy winger zipped a shot that sailed over Fleury’s shoulder.
“It can be a momentum builder for us,” Naslund said. “It just shows the character in this room.”
Pittsburgh defenceman Darryl Sydor scored a rare goal in the first period and Crosby made it 2-0 in the second for the Penguins, who eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs last season.
“Pittsburgh won the playoff round against us, so it was important for us to come out and show that we were hungry and wanted to beat them,” Sjostrom said.
The Rangers failed on a two-minute, 5-on-3 power play in the second period, but wrecked Fleury’s shutout bid 5:09 into the third when Naslund scored 7 seconds into another man advantage.
New York had just finished off a solid penalty kill when the Penguins grabbed a 1-0 lead. Sydor fired a shot from the left point that hit the leg of New York defenceman Michal Rozsival and caromed past Lundqvist, who threw his head back and then swept the puck out of the net with disgust.
The goal, scored 9:04 into the first, came 3 seconds after Wade Redden left the penalty box.
Crosby doubled Pittsburgh’s lead with 4:01 left in the frame.
Pittsburgh gave the Rangers a chance to get back in it when Mike Zigomanis and Brooks Orpik took simultaneous penalties with 3:24 left in the second. New York recorded seven shots on goal but still trailed 2-0.
“We were 8 seconds away from it, so when you look back it bugs you, but that’s hockey,” Penguins forward Miroslav Satan said. “We still got one point out of it, that’s the positive thing.”
Scott Gomez helped New York get on the board when he found Naslund in front from the goal line for a one-timed shot.
Notes: Penguins D Hal Gill missed his second straight game. LW Matt Cooke returned after sitting out four games (abdomen). … The Rangers were 4-0 against the Penguins at home last season, 1-1 in the playoffs. … Crosby has three goals, seven assists during a five-game point streak. … Sydor hadn’t scored in 46 regular-season games, dating to Dec. 27, 2007, against Washington. … The last time the Rangers tied a game in the final minute was Jan. 5 when Chris Drury scored 6.2 seconds left at Edmonton. The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout.