Bad decisions, turnovers and sloppy play brings winning streak to halt
Ryan Malone battles New York's Jaromir Jagr for the puck last night at Madison Square Garden.
Martin Straka gets the puck past Ty Conklin to give the Rangers a 5-2 lead midway through the third period.
Sean Avery, right, led the Rangers' onslaught against the Penguins with two goals.
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NEW YORK -- Take two points out of a game like this, and you can ignore most of its warts.
Maybe even gloss over all of the bad decisions and turnovers and sloppy plays.
That's a luxury the losers don't have, however, so the Penguins should expect that the details of their 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night will stick with them for a while.
If teams really do learn from their mistakes, the Penguins qualified for an advanced degree solely on the basis of all they did wrong in those 60 minutes.
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They gave away pucks like they were trying to qualify for a charitable contribution, and goalie Ty Conklin, so good so many times this season, was responsible for more big rebounds than the NBA's 3-point rule.
He finished with 25 saves and, while this loss was very much a team effort, it was not a performance that will take up much space on Conklin's personal highlights tape.
"He didn't look sharp," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "And at this time of year, your goalie has to be sharp if you're going to win."
The loss ended the Penguins' three-game winning streak, dropped their record to 41-25-7 and left them in second place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind New Jersey.
New York, meanwhile, moved to within four points of the Penguins and tightened what had been a somewhat tenuous grasp on an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
A few hours before the game, Therrien described the Rangers as "on paper, probably one of the best teams in the conference." That's a fair assessment, although Therrien couldn't have known how much his players would do to make the Rangers look the part.
The Penguins never really appeared to settle into the game, even when Jarkko Ruutu and Jordan Staal were scoring 93 seconds apart early in the second period to lift them in a short-lived 2-2 tie.
"Lots of times, when it's a playoff type game, there aren't a lot of fancy plays," Ruutu said. "And if you're trying to make them, you're going to get burned. That's something we have to learn."
The Rangers dominated the opening period -- "I really liked our start," coach Tom Renney said -- and Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan beat Conklin in a 40-second span to stake them to a 2-0 lead.
Avery scored on a wrist shot from inside the right circle at 11:07, and Callahan converted a Chris Drury rebound from the inner edge of the left circle at 11:47.
The Penguins looked to be in a bad way at the intermission but exploited a sloppy line change by the Rangers to get back into the game early in the second.
Ryan Whitney hit Ruutu with a long lead pass in the neutral zone and Ruutu broke in alone before beating New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a backhander at 1:38.
The Penguins struck again at 3:11, as Staal knocked his own rebound behind Lundqvist for his 11th of the season.
"We had a really good start in the second period, and took the momentum away from them," Therrien said.
True enough, but it didn't last long.
The Penguins' surge prompted Renney to use his timeout, and that move paid off almost instantly.
Rangers winger Fredrik Sjostrom picked off a Whitney clearing pass up the middle of the ice, then broke down the slot alone and buried the puck behind Conklin for what proved to be the winner at 3:55.
"We had the momentum, especially after the second goal," Ruutu said. "Then, when they scored right after that, it took it away a little bit."
Sjostrom's goal was one of four by New York for which the defense pairing of Whitney and Darryl Sydor was on the ice.
Avery made it 4-2 at 5:37 of the third by scoring from the front lip of the crease, and former Penguin Martin Straka steered in a Drury shot at 11:29 to close out the scoring.
The victory gave New York a badly needed psychological boost after consecutive losses at Florida and Tampa Bay, while the Penguins got a graphic reminder about the importance of playing an intelligent, fundamentally sound game.
"When you're winning, it's a lot easier to let the mistakes go," Staal said. "It starting to become playoff hockey. We have to be ready for the playoffs. We have to cut back on the mistakes."
First Published March 19, 2008 12:00 am