Penguins fall short in OT, but title closer despite loss
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, of Sweden, defends the net as the Penguins' Maxime Talbot (25) reaches for a rebound during the second period of their NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York last night.
New York Rangers' Petr Prucha (25), of the Czech Republic, reaches for a rebound in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during the first period of their NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York last night.
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Paul Mara, left, defend the net as the Penguins'' Evgeni Malkin (71) reaches out for the puck during the first period of their NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York last night.
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NEW YORK -- There was so much for the Penguins not to like about this game.
Start with the way they generated all of one -- count it, one -- shot on goal during the first 27 minutes.
Move on to how they scored New York's first goal, with only token involvement by the Rangers.
And wrap it all up with the way they lost it, 2-1, when New York's Chris Drury blew a slap shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot on a power play at 1:46 of overtime.
But despite all of that, and probably a lot more, the Penguins left Madison Square Garden with more than just regrets and second thoughts about the way they played.
A lot more, actually.
The point they earned moved them closer to clinching the Atlantic Division championship, which will happen this evening if the New York Islanders defeat second-place New Jersey at Nassau Coliseum.
It raised their lead over second-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference to two points, and they can lock up the top spot in the East with victories in their final two games -- against Philadelphia tomorrow at Mellon Arena and Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Finally, it got them to the 100-point plateau for just the fifth time in franchise history. They also did it in 1992-93 (119 points), 1993-94 (101), 1995-96 (102) and 2006-07 (105).
So while the Penguins (46-26-8) didn't have an evening to savor for years to come, they won't be scheduling electroshock therapy to help them get over what happened, either.
"We got a really big point out of this game," said forward Max Talbot, who scored their only goal. "Obviously, the next two games are key for us. And I think everybody knows we're going to do everything we can to win those games."
That probably was the plan before last night, too, although it didn't show during the first half of the game.
The Penguins managed one shot on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during the opening period -- the 14th time in franchise history they've gotten one shot during a period on the road -- and generated nothing during the early minutes of the second.
"It took us 30 minutes to get into the game, for whatever reason," left winger Ryan Malone said.
The moment that got their attention seemed to come when New York scored one of the strangest goals of the season during a 5-on-3 power play at 11:43 of the second.
After Fleury stopped a Jaromir Jagr shot, the puck fluttered high into the air. Rangers center Scott Gomez tried to knock it out of the air, but before he could make contact, defensemen Rob Scuderi struck the puck -- and Gomez's stick with his gloved hand.
"I was just trying to whack it out of there," Scuderi said.
Scuderi did not believe he made contact -- "Maybe I did touch it, but I never felt the puck hit my hand," he said -- although replays suggested he did.
Although Scuderi tried to bat it away from the crease, the puck dropped straight down, hit Fleury -- who was looking up at it -- on the front of his facemask and bounced into the net.
The initial on-ice call was that Gomez had struck the puck with a high stick, which would have made the goal illegal if the ruling had been upheld, but replays confirmed that Scuderi had been the only one of the two to touch it.
The Penguins didn't dispute that ruling, but coach Michel Therrien vigorously disputed the calls on defenseman Ryan Whitney (roughing) and forward Jeff Taffe (holding) that led to the 5-on-3.
"We can't find the penalty calls," Therrien said. "I don't know where they're coming from."
Talbot pulled the Penguins with his second goal in two days, as he worked a give-and-go with Malone before beating Lundqvist from the front lip of the crease at 10:03 for his 12th of the season.
That goal was enough to put the game into overtime, but Drury got the winner after Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar was penalized for holding Jagr 24 seconds into overtime.
Fleury had no chance to stop Drury's shot and finished with 25 saves in yet another strong outing.
"[Fleury] earned us the one point," Malone said. "We know we can play better."
They have before. They will again. Until then, the point they got is a nice consolation prize.
"Every point's important now," Fleury said. "It [stinks] that we lost, but we're going to take the point, that's for sure."
First Published April 1, 2008 12:00 am