It is said that good things happen when you put the puck on net.
Chris Kreider scored twice in the third period from down low to lead the Rangers to a big 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Garden last night.
“It’s a good team we’re playing against, we’re a pretty good team in here as well,” Mika Zibanejad said after a two point night [goal and an assist]. “Always good games against them, intense, obviously we know what’s at stake and how important these points are so that was a huge win for us.”
Kreider used his size and strength to his advantage in front of the net to snap a 2-2 tie in the third period.
Adam Fox fired a shot from just inside the blue line that hit Kreider’s skate and was loose in front. Kreider outmuscled his Boston College teammate, Brian Dumoulin, to put the puck past a helpless Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry for his 29th goal of the season and a 3-2 lead with 8:15 remaining in the third.
With Jarry pulled, Kreider scored the empty net goal to put the game away. Zibanejad passed to Vincent Trocheck who fired a shot on net that was actually blocked by Evgeni Malkin. The puck came right to Kreider, who put it away to give him a second consecutive 30-goal season.
Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves and won his 31st game, not to mention, he’s played a lot better over the past week or so. Jarry made 31 saves and kept the Rangers from making the score worse than it was.
Rangers were without defenseman Ryan Lindgren for a ninth straight game but they played well defensively. Except for a temporary lapse late in the second period, it was one of the better all around games of the season.
For a second straight game, the Rangers came out with a strong first period.
Zibanejad made it 1-0 less than three minutes into the first period. The Rangers center took a bank pass off the left wing boards from Artemi Panarin and was in on a breakaway. The Rangers center made a slight deke and then fired the puck under Jarry’s glove and into the back of the net.
Like last Sunday, there was an element of physicality in the first period. Penguins defenseman Jake Petry and Tyler Motte both went back to the locker room after a couple of hard hits. It appeared the Penguins were targeting Motte as he took three hard hits on the same shift before he left the ice.
The Penguins tied the game at 14:40 of the second period on a goal by Richard Rakell that was set up by a giveaway. K’Andre Miller, whose game has slipped a bit since he’s returned from his spitting suspension, gave the puck up to Sidney Crosby behind the net. Crosby flipped it to Rakell who was open in front and he didn’t miss.
A little over two minutes later, Motte’s first goal, since he returned to the Rangers made it 2-1. Penguins defenseman Pierre-Oliver Joseph could not handle the puck in his own zone and Motte jumped all over it and found the back of the net with a snap shot from in front. “A little bit of a bouncer there, nice to see that one go, after a missed opportunity the shift before,” Motte said.
The Rangers fourth line (Motte, Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey) has been their most consistent line over the past few games and Coach Gerard Gallant has given them ice time down the stretch of close games. “We know our identity, maybe take us a few games to find it but we know what works now, we just gotta continue to keep pushing,” said Motte.
Jake Guentzel’s 30th goal tied the game at 9:09 of the third before Kreider gave the Rangers a huge win at this juncture of the season. Crosby had two assists to give him 104 points in 81 career games against the Rangers.
Trocheck had two assists and his line with Kreider and Patrick Kane is starting to click. “A lot of communication, a lot of talk,” Kreider said. “Getting more comfortable with one another, obviously played a handful with Troch [Trocheck] this year, getting to know him pretty well and pretty easy to play with Kaner [Kane].”
The win gave the Rangers (39-19-10) a 10-point lead over the Penguins and Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division and the automatic berth in the playoffs. “Feel like those [games against the Penguins] are always tight games, good hockey so nice to get on top of this one, especially at home, especially considering what the division looks like right now,” Kreider said.
The Rangers have a day off and then they’ll see the Penguins for a third time in seven days and second in a row at MSG. After Nashville completes the four game home stand on Tuesday, there’s a home and home with division leading Carolina.
“When you’re playing teams like Pittsburgh, Carolina coming up, you know Nashville, all those teams, everybody’s battling so there’s gonna be good games, and tight games,” Gallant said. “Pretty much close to playoff hockey.”