Stanley Cup Playoffs: Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz Rediscover Rhythm In Pittsburgh Penguins Win


Apr 18, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates his second period goal with left wing Chris Kunitz (14) as the New York Rangers center J.T. Miller (10) skates away during game 2 of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 1 at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz have often formed a heck of an offensive tandem over the years for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but those days appeared over as this up-and-down season wore on.

It might have only been a brief nostalgia tour, but those two had a throwback night in Game 2 of the Pens’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Rangers, combining for five points in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win. Crosby netted a pair of goals, while Kunitz put up a three-point night on a goal and two assists.

The Pens hadn’t scored four goals in their past 16 games, dating back to a 6-4 win over Edmonton on March 12. They seemed consigned to frustration after one period Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, as the top-seeded Rangers got a late goal from Derek Stepan to grab a 1-0 lead after a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes.

But things changed early in the second, even as the Rangers continued to enjoy power play after power play. Mere minutes after Brandon Sutter clanged a shorthanded chance off the right post, he buried a loose puck from the slot during the Pens’ first man-advantage of the game, tying the score at 1.

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So Pittsburgh had a clean slate with half the game to play, allowing Crosby and Kunitz to put their stamp on the game and help pull the visitors level in the best-of-seven series. Reunited on the same line by Pens coach Mike Johnston, they showed flashes of the chemistry that used to routinely torment NHL defenders.

First, though, it was more recent Crosby running-mate Patric Hornqvist who helped the Penguins take their first lead with 5:53 left in the second.

Sprung into a seam by Ian Cole‘s terrific lead pass, Hornqvist got a driving backhand away that Henrik Lundqvist stopped. However, Hornqvist chipped the rebound over to Crosby, who flipped the puck into the unguarded right side of the net.

The trio of Hornqvist, Kunitz and Crosby kept up their wonderful work along the boards and down low, leading to the Penguins’ third goal 4 1/2 minutes later.

After defenseman Paul Martin intercepted a New York clearing attempt at the point, Kunitz centered to a lunging Crosby, who steered the pass inside the left post for his latest signature play.

Then, midway through the third period, with the Rangers threatening to complete a two-goal rally, Kunitz zinged the rebound of Sutter’s stuff attempt over Lundqvist’s glove hand. It was a vintage Kunitz power-play finish, and it helped ensure the Pens would return to Pittsburgh with a chance to take the series lead in Monday’s Game 3.

Saturday’s rally wasn’t all about Crosby and Kunitz, though.

Sutter showed up in a large way after a quiet series opener, the rookie defense duo of Brian Dumoulin and Taylor Chorney continued their upward trajectory from the final two periods of Game 1, and the Pittsburgh penalty killers improved to 10 for 12 in the series with a 6-for-7 performance.

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  • And let’s not forget the critical contribution of Evgeni Malkin, who created value even though he has developed a hesitancy to fire pucks on net – a mindset that may be related to his reported back injury.

    Malkin never got much going with linemates David Perron and Daniel Winnik on the offensive end, but No. 71 may have made the most important play of the game shortly after Derick Brassard buried a rebound during a power play to cut the margin to 3-2.

    With the Penguins on the advantage, the desperate Rangers shoved a puck under Marc-Andre Fleury‘s paraphernalia, but Malkin cleared the puck out of the Pittsburgh crease to avoid disaster. Instead of New York finding new life with the equalizer, Kunitz put them away about a minute later.

    The Pens’ two power-play goals aside, it’s striking how much they have limited the Rangers during 5-on-5 play. Pittsburgh allowed just 12 shots on goal during even-strength action Saturday, encouraging results if the Pens can limit the absurd number of penalties they’ve taken in the first two games.

    With the exception of a sluggish start to Game 1, the wild-card Pens have not looked like the underdog. That has to inspire confidence as the series shifts to Consol Energy Center.

    Next: Riverhounds return home for Sunday matinee