NEW YORK – Successful teams throughout history have had several key elements in common, a few being role players stepping up in key situations, a never-say-die attitude and the ability to rise to any challenge.
If Wednesday night’s New York Rangers game against the Pittsburgh Penguins is any indication, the Blueshirts could be triumphant for a long time.
Down 2-0 in the second period, the Rangers rallied to win 3-2 in a shootout. New York is 7-1 in shootouts this season, and five of its last six victories have come by way of shootout.
“This was a statement game,” said coach Tom Renney.
Henrik Lundqvist allowed a goal by Kris Letang but stopped Miroslav Satan’s backhanded attempt, and that was all that was needed. Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom all were able to put the past Pens goalie Dany Sabourin in the shootout.
Naslund and Zherdev have both converted on their shootout opportunities in the last three contests decided in the format.
“I knew before I was going to shoot there. Even if (Sabourin) was standing on that post, I was going to shoot there,” Sjostrom said of his wrister that sealed the victory.
With five minutes left in the final period, Petr Prucha knotted the game up at two by following the rebound on a Scott Gomez shot and putting in the puck. Naslund began the play that forced the extra period and shootout.
Prucha has been a healthy scratch for the last 10 games, equaling nearly five weeks of not being on the game ice. After refusing to be sent down to the minors this past weekend, Renney put Prucha in, and both were rewarded by the right-winger’s effort.
“Just jumping in the game felt great, I felt strong and it paid off,” Prucha said.
“He’s a hungry hockey player, and if anything we were rewarding that, hanging in for five weeks,” Renney said.
Forcing the game into a shootout seemed like an impossibility in the first period.
Pittsburgh dominated by smothering New York’s offense and maintaining pressure in their own zone.
“We can’t sit back and let teams have their way with you in the first period,” Renney said of his team’s slow start.
Despite having instigator Colton Orr in his face the whole game, Sidney Crosby began the scoring for the visitors during a 4-on-4 opportunity.
“Sid the Kid” swiped the puck from defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, and pushed the puck left to a charging Mark Eaton.
Eaton zipped the puck past Lundqvist at 13:56 in the first for his first goal since April 8, 2006.
Jordan Staal added a goal in the second, and the Rangers looked like they were going to lose back-to-back home games for only the second time this season.
“We’re trying not to make mistakes, we’re playing not to lose,” Renney said.
But the Rangers have made a habit of working hard to get back into games.
Nearly eleven minutes into the second, Naslund sprinted up center ice with the puck, with
Gomez and Zherdev flanking him. Naslund passed to Gomez on the left wing, and the assistant captain fired a shot at the net.
A crashing Zherdev tipped the puck past Sabourin to get New York back into the game.
Towards the end of the second period, momentum shifted to the home club, despite the one goal deficit.
The Rangers physical strength began to challenge the Penguins speed. Evgeni Malkin had a 1-on-1 breakaway opportunity late in the period, but Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival stopped Malkin in his tracks with one solid hit.
During the third period, Lundqvist received more defensive help, but this time it was inside his own net.
Lundqvist was caught out of the goal making a save, and Crosby had the perfect angle to tap the rebound in behind the goalie. Captain Chris Drury dropped onto his knees and swiped the puck away with his leg, reminiscent of his former teammate Patrick Roy and the famous butterfly technique.
In the overtime, Crosby tried to end the game by himself, taking the puck up ice 1-on-3.
The odds did not work in his favor, and Crosby was leveled with an open ice check by
Marc Staal, much to the delight of the Madison Square Garden crowd.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien was pleased with his team’s effort in the loss.
“I thought we played well. I thought we deserved to win. We were ready to play this game; it was a huge challenge, and I thought we responded well. There are going to be games like this where the result won’t be on your side,” Therrien said.
Sabourin, filling in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, finished with 25 saves in the overtime loss, and is 5-2-2 on the season.
Lundqvist saved 29 of the 31 shots he faced in his 16th win of the season.
The victory puts the Rangers, 38 points, six points ahead of the second-place Penguins in the Atlantic Division and two points in front of Boston for the Eastern Conference lead.
Sjostrom described what it’s like to continue to win the hard way.
“We never give up. We get ourselves into these situations again and again, and it shows our character that we keep coming back.”