Ron Cook: Important Penguins victory moving forward
March 4, 2016 12:00 AM
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin celebrates his goal against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the second period Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins’ 4-1 win against the New York Rangers Thursday night was important for so many reasons even if they wouldn’t admit it after the game.
It was important because the Penguins finally defeated a team that had owned them, one they could face in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers came in 11-1-1 against them in the past 13 games, including postseason, and had outscored them, 40-18. They eliminated the Penguins in each of the past two playoffs.
It was important because the Penguins’ two superstars — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — finally did something against the Rangers. Each had a goal, making the team 59-4-1 when both score, according to Penguins historian Bob Grove. Crosby had scored just twice in his previous 19 games against the Rangers. Malkin didn’t have a point against them in the past six, including the five-game knockout by the Rangers in the first round of the 2015 playoffs.
Maybe most of all, it was important because the Penguins proved to themselves that Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is not superhuman. Patric Hornqvist beat him, along with Crosby and Malkin, in a span of 1:39 late in the second period. Lundqvist didn’t bother coming back out of the locker room for the third period.
It was some night at Consol Energy Center.
“It’s just good to get two points, regardless of who it’s against,” Crosby said. “They’re all important now. Hopefully, this is something we can build on.”
Just about everybody in the Penguins room, from Crosby and to coach Mike Sullivan, was quick to downplay the significance of beating the Rangers and refused to say there would be any carryover when the teams play again March 13 in New York.
“Each game kind of tells its own story,” Crosby said. “I don’t read into it too much.”
I’m not buying it.
The Penguins needed to beat a really good team. Who better than the Rangers? A big reason the Penguins started the night in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings is that they were 6-8-2 against the seven teams ahead of them. They were 7-6-2 against Metropolitan opponents.
That’s not good enough.
That’s why it was encouraging to see the Penguins climb out of a 1-0 hole Thursday night. Especially against the Rangers.
“We just had to make sure we were taking what the game gives us and we didn’t allow our frustration to become a distraction,” Sullivan said. “I really liked the way our team responded. I thought our guys did a terrific job. We were putting pucks on the net. We were going to the net. I think that’s a good formula regardless of who the goaltender is. Our leadership group, starting with our top guys, really responded the right way.”
Just 57 seconds after Chris Kreider scored to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, Crosby took advantage of a lucky bounce off the back boards to put the puck in behind Lundqvist, who backed it into his net. Malkin scored off a rebound 21 seconds later to make it 2-1. Hornqvist deflected in a shot by Phil Kessel on a power play 1:18 after that and, suddenly, the Rangers were down, 3-1, and Lundqvist wasn’t feeling very well. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Lundqvist left the game because of neck spasms.
Apparently, Lundqvist was hurt earlier in the second period when teammate Ryan McDonagh collided with him. Certainly, he was angry at the referees for not giving him an injury timeout to gather himself. He took out his frustration on his net, throwing it backward off its moorings. He was given a two-minute penalty for delay of game.
The Penguins didn’t feel much sympathy for Lundqvist. He has made them feel sick many times over the years.
“We’re confident we can score goals if we do the right thing no matter who we’re playing,” Crosby said, again downplaying the importance of beating Lundqvist.
Again, I’m not buying it.
The win was important for one more reason: Fleury outplayed the great Lundqvist. That’s what it’s going to take for the Penguins to win a playoff series against the Rangers. Fleury was really good against them in the 2015 postseason, but Lundqvist was a little better. Each of the Rangers’ four wins ended 2-1. This night, Fleury had 27 saves, perhaps none bigger than when he stopped Dominic Moore in alone with the Rangers leading, 1-0.
“He was solid,” Crosby said of Fleury. “He was able to make the big saves.”
Like Crosby, Fleury didn’t take any special satisfaction or see any special meaning from beating Lundqvist and the Rangers.
“Every game is fresh,” he said. “Every game is new.”
But I’m thinking along with Malkin, who said, “We had a solid game and I feel good.”
I’m guessing all of the Penguins felt that way even if they wouldn’t say it.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter@RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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