The big question coming into game two. How would the Rangers respond to a triple overtime loss in game one?
The Rangers responded in a big way.
The Blueshirts rediscovered their game and scored a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden last night to even their best-of-seven first round series at a game apiece.
Artemi Panarin and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and two assists while Igor Shesterkin made 39 saves and earned his first playoff win.
“Definitely a good showing today. It was a good first step in the right direction,” Panarin said through an interpreter after the game.
The Rangers entered the third period with a 3-2 lead. Sidney Crosby (who is playing like a future Hall of Famer) had scored off of a rebound late in the second period and Pittsburgh carried that momentum into the third period as they had the first nine shots on goal.
Early in the third, Shesterkin denied Evgeni Malkin who appeared to have an open net. Later in the period, Crosby was on the doorstep with a chance to tip in the tying goal but Shesterkin made the save to preserve the one goal lead.
“He [Shesterkin] made three or four real good saves in the third for sure early on so that huge for us,” head coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. “We came out and that was probably the worst four or five minutes we had in the whole game, so that was big.”
A few minutes later, Panarin took the cue from his goaltender as he scored a huge goal to make it a 4-2 lead.
Panarin skated down the left side into the Penguins’ zone. With Penguins defenseman Kris Letang literally slashing him twice, Panarin backhanded the puck in an attempt to get it to Jacob Trouba in the slot, but it bounced off the skate of Penguins’ defenseman Mike Matheson into the net past Penguins goaltender Louis Domingue.
Panarin was trying to make a play and got a fortunate bounce. “I was looking more at [Jacob] Trouba, trying to get a pass to him but I accidentally hit the skate,” he said.
Midway through the third, Vatrano fired a shot from the right circle past Domingue for his first of the playoffs and a comfortable three goal lead. “My shot just ended up going in the net. It just feels a lot better contributing to the win,” Vatrano said.
The teams traded goals in the first period.
Andrew Copp scored his second goal of the series at 6:50 of the first period, off a beautiful feed from Panarin who deked the Penguins into thinking he was going to shoot the puck. Justin Braun, who was in the lineup replacing Ryan Lindgren, had the secondary assist.
Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel tied the game a little over two minutes later with his third goal of the season and the teams skated off tied at one after the first period.
Unlike Tuesday night, the Rangers were much better in this second period thanks, in part, to the power play.
The Rangers had not drawn a penalty since the first period of game one but they spent time in the Penguins’ offensive zone and Pittsburgh’s John Marino was called for cross checking.
Ryan Strome redirected Adam Fox’s slap shot past Domingue less than three minutes into the second period and the Rangers had a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers had the momentum and they rode that to a 3-1 lead. Chris Kreider scored his second goal of the series at 12:06 on a deflection from Vatrano’s one timer to make it a two goal lead.
Crosby’s greatness was on full display late in the second period when he created a scoring chance and banged home a rebound with 1:26 left in the second period to cut the Rangers’ lead to one. “Crosby’s goal, the third goal, pretty good individual play by him. You know there’s four guys around him, he still makes the play, gets a rebound. That’s what he can do,” Gallant said.
The Rangers got a major scare late in the third period when Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter collided with Shesterkin, who was coming from behind the net. Shesterkin went down for a few minutes but got back up and finished the game. “I feel great. I just landed poorly,” Shesterkin said through an interpreter.
Gallant did not appreciate seeing his goaltender sprawled out on the ice. “I wasn’t too happy, obviously in a game like that. There’s no reason for it. I was disappointed, him going after him a little bit like that,” Gallant said. “Carter’s been a good, honest player but it just didn’t look good to me.”
Rangers were without Barclay Goodrow and Lindgren. Gallant said Goodrow is “week to week” with a lower body injury and Lindgren is a “game time decision” for game 3 on Saturday. Pittsburgh was missing defenseman Brian Dumoulin and goaltender Casey DeSmith.
The Rangers had a 41-40 shots on goal advantage and a 40-27 edge in hits, led by Ryan Reaves who had six. Don’t underestimate the contribution that Reaves is making with his physical presence.
The Rangers played better but there are still things to be cleaned up.
Gallant feels there is work to be done on the defensive end. “I just think we gotta be better defensively, stronger defensively,” Gallant said. “When we’re quick in the d-zone, we’re a real good team. I think we’re sitting in the slot too much and they’re getting too many chances from the point, creating stuff. We gotta be quicker, we gotta be better.”
Game 3, Saturday night in Pittsburgh.