It wasn’t a perfect performance, but considering who the Pittsburgh Penguins are missing from their lineup, it’s about as close as they’re going to get.
Despite squandering a two-goal lead with eight minutes left in the third period, the severely shorthanded Penguins earned their fifth straight win and 10th in 11 games Wednesday night in New York, downing the Rangers 4-3 in a shootout at Madison Square Garden.
Brandon Sutter, who scored in spectacular fashion to give Pittsburgh (25-10-1, 51 points) a 3-1 lead early in the third, netted the only goal of a five-round shootout to hand the visitors an extra point in the standings. Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stood firm during a New York power play in overtime, then denied all five Rangers shooters in the skills competition.
Fleury made 29 saves, the same number as New York counterpart Henrik Lundqvist, but the Rangers (16-17-2, 34 points) beat him twice in the final 7:17 of regulation time. Mats Zuccarello made it 3-2 by cleaning up the rebound of John Moore‘s straight-on wrister, then Derick Brassard showed impressive marksmanship by firing an end-board carom high into the net for the game-tying power play tally with 1:46 to go.
But Fleury came through after a dubious goalie interference penalty against Chris Kunitz in overtime, giving the Penguins a chance to collect another victory with their top four defensemen and star center Evgeni Malkin out with injuries. Pittsburgh beat Toronto 3-1 on Monday with a similarly inexperienced group, and they did it again Wednesday to extend their Metropolitan Division lead to 12 points over second-place Washington.
Kunitz had a goal and an assist while Sidney Crosby collected two helpers to increase his advantage in the NHL scoring race to three points over Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Pittsburgh’s No. 1 line of Crosby, Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis combined for five points and was dangerous all night, spearheading a forward corps that featured four AHL call-ups. The Pens had seven players in uniform who have skated in at least one game for their affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa., this season.
Rick Nash hit the post early in the first period, but the Penguins put together the better offensive thrusts in the opening frame. They didn’t break through against Lundqvist until a power-play chance midway through the second.
From the right-wing boards, Crosby flung a pass to the low slot for Jussi Jokinen, who gathered and fed Kunitz for a couple of whacks at the right post. His second attempt fluttered through Lundqvist, his 18th goal and another conversion for the NHL’s top power play. The Penguins are scoring at a 26 percent rate on the man-advantage.
New York’s Carl Hagelin tied the game moments later when he burst past young defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres and stashed the puck between the legs of Fleury for a breathtaking breakaway goal.
Pittsburgh hopped back on top 5 1/2 minutes into the third when the line of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis displayed the familiarity they’ve built in recent years. Kunitz picked up a loose puck and whirled a pass to the left circle for Crosby to tap across the crease to an open Dupuis, all in the matter of a couple seconds. Dupuis pumped in his sixth of the year from point-blank range.
Sutter doubled the Pens’ lead 61 seconds later with a gorgeous move for his seventh goal. The lanky center pulled off a smooth toe-drag move from the right side of the ice to the middle and stashed an accurate backhand shot over Lundqvist’s shoulder.
Crosby had a golden opportunity to win the game in overtime when Niskanen found him at the inner edge of the left circle, but Lundqvist barely got his stick on a shot that appeared to be heading between this legs. In the shootout, Kunitz, Crosby, Dupuis and Jokinen were denied, while Fleury stopped New York’s Zuccarello, Nash, Dominic Moore, Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot.
The Penguins will have to recover quickly for Minnesota’s visit to Consol Energy Center on Thursday night. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. as Pittsburgh goes for six straight victories.
Notes: The Penguins have won 13 of their past 14 shootouts, including all three this season. They have earned 57 all-time shootout victories, the most in the NHL since the tiebreaker was implemented for 2005-06…Pittsburgh and New York will meet two more times in the season series; both meetings will be in Pittsburgh.