For 40 minutes, nothing separated the Rangers and Pens at Mellon Arena. Locked up at one, it looked like another battle between Atlantic rivals would be decided by the next goal.
Instead, Sidney Crosby and the Pens had other ideas outscoring a lackluster Blueshirt team 5-1 doubling them up in shots 16-8 as part of a humiliating third en route to a 6-2 laugher.
It was the kind of brutal 20 minutes that can get a coach fired. Although, Tom Renney doesn’t have anything to worry about.
With the score tied at one – on goals by Nikolai Zherdev (first in 14 games) and one-time Ranger Petr Sykora (1 of 2 markers) – the free fall started surprisingly when Jordan Staal wasn’t taken off the puck by Michal Rozsival and flipped a harmless sharp angle shot which somehow eluded an asleep Henrik Lundqvist giving the Pens a 2-1 lead 71 seconds into the stanza.
It only got worse from there as the normally reliable fourth line was victimized when Freddy Sjostrom mistakenly went to Crosby, who then dished across for a cutting Kris Letang who moved in and wristed one upstairs from 14 feet out for a two-goal lead 5:07 later.
For two periods, no Ranger had taken a minor penalty with only a battle renewed between enforcers Colton Orr and Eric Godard with the former Isles’ goon getting the decision. But in probably their worst period of the season, they lost discipline taking unnecessary penalties including Dmitri Kalinin’s delay of game which handed the Pens a two-man advantage.
Even the vaunted top ranked PK couldn’t prevent the high powered Pittsburgh attack from increasing the margin to three when Sykora banged one through Lundqvist from Crosby and Ryan Whitney at 10:01.
Just like that, they were down three in a place they rarely win. Marc Staal got one back with a nice finish off a four-on-four rush from Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund slicing it to 4-2 with still 6:05 to play. It snapped a 33-game drought for the brother of Jordan.
Instead of getting any momentum for one last push, the Rangers again came unglued when Kalinin put forth a poor effort failing to recover a Gomez pass allowing Letang to go the other way and undress Paul Mara going forehand to beat Lundqvist, who for some reason didn’t look set. Pascal Dupuis and Crosby assisted at 16:21 putting the contest out of reach.
For good measure, on a night he was banged around and probably wasn’t 100 percent, Crosby put the exclamation point on the victory by taking a Evgeni Malkin feed and blindly roofing a backhand past Lundqvist for his 18th and fourth point of the period with 1:40 left.
The kind a superstar scores.