The Penguins' Matt Cullen (7), second from left, scores past New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, left, during the first period of Sunday night's game in New York.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK — There were 30 seconds left in overtime when Sidney Crosby scored on a deflection to give the Penguins a 3-2 win against the Rangers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Crosby tipped a shot by Kris Letang past goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the win, in a game that could be a preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
More important for the Penguins, it was another momentum-building win for a team that keeps finding ways to win.
The Penguins now have won eight of nine games and climbed within three points of the Rangers, who occupy second place in the Metropolitan Division standings with 95 points.
“What I love about our team ... we’ve been down in games and we don’t get rattled. We just keep playing,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “This team has grown so much in the past three months where we don’t let the different ebbs and flows effect us. I thought the overtime was a perfect example.”
Said Crosby: “I think we just stayed focused and tried to find a way to close it out in overtime. … I think that we worked hard for it. It was a pretty even hockey game. That’s what we’re playing for to get these two points, especially after a pretty emotional game [Saturday] knowing what that meant. To come back and have a good effort and find a way to get points in a back-to-back against a good team is nice.”
The Penguins improved to 42-25-8 and the Rangers dropped to 43-24-9.
Eric Staal scored twice for the Rangers in regulation before goals by Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel tied it.
Kessel was flying, as was Carl Hagelin, as part of a second line that put together a 15-point weekend.
“It’s huge. Eveyrbody’s contributing,” Crosby said. “On the score sheet it’s pretty obvious to see what they’re doing. They’re putting up a lot of points, generating a lot of opportunities and momentum for us. … I think it’s a total team effort.”
After Staal one-armed a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury at 4:19 of the first period, Cullen tied it at 15:49, poking a rebound past Lundqvist off a shot by Derrick Pouliot, who returned to the lineup for the first time since March 6.
Staal struck again in the second period, capitalizing on a loose puck the Penguins failed to clear from the zone.
He beat Marc-Andre Fleury high on the short side from a tough angle to make it 2-1 at 2:07.
The Penguins second line tied it right back up when Kessel finished a rebound at 8:36.
Hagelin legged down a poor clear attempt by Lundqvist, fired the puck back at the net which caught Lundqvist out of position when the rebound was back-handed in by Kessel.
“I think it’s great. I’ve played with him since Game 1, since I got to this team,” Hagelin said of his budding chemistry with Kessel. “We have good chemistry. We both like to use our speed to create offense and create off the rush.”
The second line had a 12-point game Saturday in Detroit, with a goal and four assists each credited to Kessel and Nick Bonino, and two goals by Hagelin.
“I think their second line is really strong, a lot of speed,” Lundqvist said. “When Kessel skates like that he’s one of the better players in the league and [Hagelin] with his speed. So it’s a tough team to defend with that kind of speed but we did a pretty good job of keeping them to the outside.”
Fleury denied Staal a hat trick late in the second period, turning him away after he got the puck alone in the slot and shot from close range.
With one second left in regulation, the Penguins got their second power play of the night when Derick Brassard high-sticked Ben Lovejoy in the face.
The Penguins power play was unable to convert in overtime, yet they still found a way to score.
“That was a really big win. Coming off a big game [Saturday] and playing against a team we’re battling for a spot with and could potentially see in the playoffs,” Cullen said. “That was a big effort. I thought we battle all night long and found a way to get it done in the end.
The Penguins had shifted their defensive pairs to deal with the loss of Brian Dumoulin (undisclosed injury).
Trevor Daley and Kris Letang skated together on the top pairing, Pouliot skated on a line with Ben Lovejoy, and Ian Cole-Justin Schultz stayed intact.
Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette. and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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