It was bound to end at some point.
Although James Neal‘s tying goal with 2:56 to play got the Pittsburgh Penguins to overtime, they had their nine-win shootout streak stopped by the visiting New York Rangers, who grabbed a 4-3 decision Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins, who trailed three times in regulation, hadn’t lost a shootout in exactly two years, but Mats Zuccarello and Brad Richards scored in the final two rounds of the tiebreaker, counteracting a must-have conversion by Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had stopped 12 straight shootout attempts before Zuccarello, a Norwegian Olympian, beat him between the legs in the second round.
Malkin snapped a wrister past New York’s Henrik Lundqvist to keep the Penguins (40-15-3, 83 points) alive for a moment until Richards did likewise to end the game. Benoit Pouliot was the scoring hero for the Rangers (32-24-3, 67 points) in regulation, netting a pair of goals – including a go-ahead power-play strike 9:24 into the third period.
Neal added an assist to his late goal, while seven Penguins recorded at least one point. Fleury made 38 saves in his 48th start of the season, earning a much-needed break over the next couple weeks. The NHL will go on hiatus while dozens of its athletes head to Russia to compete in the Olympic tournament.
New York appeared ready to clinch its sixth consecutive road win until rookie Pens defenseman Olli Maatta pinched into the right corner and fed Neal in front for a one-timer that got by Lundqvist to tie the game at 3.
The 19-year-old Maatta, set to join Penguins teammate Jussi Jokinen on Team Finland in Sochi, put an early stamp on the game by backhanding the rebound of Sidney Crosby‘s shot into the net at 11:43 of the first.
The goal, Maatta’s sixth, was the first of two tallies for the league’s top power-play unit, tying it up after Pouliot scored 64 seconds into the game.
Pittsburgh also owned the NHL’s best penalty killing percentage entering the game (87.8), but the Rangers ended a streak of 27 straight kills on home ice when defenseman Dan Girardi gunned a long-range blast behind Fleury 34 seconds into the middle period.
The Pens used their special teams to get even eight minutes later, as Malkin and Neal dished the puck back and forth before Malkin overpowered Lundqvist with a power-play slap shot from the right circle at 8:29, the Russian Olympian’s 18th goal.
But Pouliot made it two goals in five New York power plays with his 11th of the season midway through the third, taking advantage of a rebound off the end boards. Still, the Rangers couldn’t claim a 60-minute victory despite outshooting Pittsburgh 40-29 in regulation.
The Penguins will resume play after the Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 27, when they host Montreal.
Notes: The seven Penguins heading to Sochi – Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Malkin, Jokinen, Maatta, Brooks Oprik and Paul Martin – were honored on the ice before the game…Kris Letang, who was determined to have suffered a minor stroke last week, missed his fifth straight game while Taylor Pyatt sat out his second in a row with a lower-body injury. Chuck Kobasew was a healthy scratch…Pittsburgh has gone 15-1-1 at home since late October.