Rupp's hat trick leads Penguins to 5-2 win against Rangers

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NEW YORK -- Mike Rupp did not get one of those gaudy nine-figure deals when he signed with the Penguins as a free agent this summer.

Not unless you count the zeros behind the decimal point, anyway.

He didn't get enough years to assure him of lifetime security, either. Not if he plans to be around long enough to get a few gray hairs.

No, Rupp settled for a relatively modest contract worth $800,000 this season and $850,000 in 2010-11.

That's a fair wage for an average fourth-liner in the NHL today, but Rupp's play so far -- including his first career hat trick in the Penguins' 5-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night -- has been anything by ordinary.

"A bargain," general manager Ray Shero said last night. "He's doing a great job. He's been a great fit."

The rugged, responsible play Rupp has provided through the first two months of the season were expected; the eight goals -- two more than his previous career-best -- he has gotten in 28 games were not, even by those who figured he had some untapped offensive potential.

"When we looked at his stats and were talking about him this summer, I expected to see more," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I'm not surprised to see him being a factor in the offensive zone, being around the net and driving [to] the net, being a physical force. That's kind of what we thought we were getting.

"Did we think we'd have eight goals at this point in time? No. But we did see him being a guy who would be on the scoresheet."

Rupp, who generally plays on the fourth line, spent much of last night in Matt Cooke's spot on the third, alongside Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.

While Cooke is not in danger of losing his spot there because that unit has been together, and solid, for most of the season, Rupp did some admirable work filling in for him.

"He plays in a lot of different roles," center Sidney Crosby said. "He serves a lot of purposes."

Rupp scored the Penguins' second goal when he backhanded in his own rebound from the left side of the crease at 7:33 of the second and got the winner at 11:14 of the third by carrying the puck from his own zone and into the New York end before throwing a shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Rupp then completed his hat trick with a long-distance shot into an empty net at 18:20.

"Most of the time, I wouldn't throw it down," Rupp said. "But with two goals, I'm going to try to throw it down the ice. Fortunately, it went in."

Actually, Rupp was fortunate that he got a chance to score his second goal, let alone the third. At 5:48 of the third period, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi checked him from behind, driving Rupp into the boards.

The inside of his left knee struck the boards, and Rupp adjourned to the locker room with trainer Chris Stewart, clearly favoring his left leg. Little more than another minute of playing time passed before he returned to the bench.

"I was walking in the hallway [outside the locker room] a little bit, and it started coming back," Rupp said. "It's pretty sore now. I can't overly bend it. ... It's more like a charley horse-type of thing. It's fine."

Although Rupp said he does not have a history of any particular success against the Rangers -- "Do I feast on any team, offensively?" he said, chuckling -- but the guy who scored the Penguins' other two goals last night, Crosby, does.

He now has 18 goals and 26 assists in 31 career games against the Rangers, including eight points in the past two games.

"I was just trying to do good things out there, and I was fortunate enough to capitalize on some chances," Crosby said.

"Sometimes, that's the way it goes."

The Penguins' victory was their first in the Garden since March 1, 2007, and memories of some previous collapses surfaced late in the second period, after Jordan Staal was denied on a short-handed breakaway and Rangers winger Marian Gaborik promptly tied the score, 2-2, with his second of the evening.

"It's a tough building to play in, and, when the momentum changes like that, it's tough to bounce back," Staal said.

Not this time, though.

Not when Mike Rupp was playing like a guy trying to prove he is worth the mega-contract he never came close to getting.


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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