PITTSBURGH -- Dissatisfied with the goal his New York Rangers had just allowed and visibly upset with his players' effort and execution, coach John Tortorella made an unusual move less than six minutes into Friday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins: He used his lone timeout.
The message Tortorella delivered during the brief break was loud, emotional and meant to grab the Rangers' attention. Even HBO's "24/7" might not have been able to air the entire speech. But whatever Tortorella said during his attention-getting talk, it worked.
The streaking Rangers overcame a sloppy start in which they were outshot 11-1, recovering with a Brad Richards goal set up by Brandon Dubinsky and a Dubinsky shorthanded goal to beat the suddenly slumping Penguins 3-1 at Consol Energy Center for their ninth victory in 10 games.
Derek Stepan effectively sealed the Rangers' fifth consecutive victory in Pittsburgh – the first time they've done that since 1973-74 – by taking advantage of a Marc-Andre Fleury giveaway to score 80 seconds into the third period.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did the rest in New York's fourth consecutive victory overall, turning aside 37 shots to win his sixth in a row – even though the Rangers were outshot 37-21. He has allowed just seven goals during a personal run that has helped elevate the Rangers to the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a NHL-best 56 points. It's the first time since 1996 they've held the overall lead this late in a season.
"It looked early on like we were a team that was saying, `Uh, oh, we're tired, we've won a lot of games here lately, this may be just our bad night,' " Tortorella said. "We played in spurts after that, but Lundqvist was unbelievable."
The Penguins, by contrast, dropped their third in a row – the first time all season they've done that in regulation – and extended a frustrating run against the Eastern Conference's elite. They are 4-8-1 against the teams currently in position to make the playoffs, going a combined 0-5 against the Bruins (0-1), Flyers (0-2) and Rangers (0-2). They now trail the division-leading Rangers by 10 points.
There's been no post-Winter Classic letdown for the Rangers – they're 2-0 since their come-from-behind 3-2 outdoor win in Philadelphia on Monday – and no letup for a team that is 9-1-0 against the Atlantic Division and 10-0-2 when playing back-to-back games. New York was coming off a 3-2 overtime win Thursday over Florida in which they outshot the Panthers 41-21.
Tortorella must have felt there was a bit of fatigue and relaxation following the short turnaround, so he aired out his team immediately after Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy skated down the slot unimpeded to score his first of the season 5:43 into the game.
Timeout -- and time for Tortorella to take over.
"I just wanted to let them know that we're just not mailing this in, because that was the look we had," Tortorella said. "We were tired. It's been a long week here, but it's part of our game. You see teams so much in our League say, 'OK, let's pack it in tonight, we'll get going the next game.' I don't want this team to do that."
Lundqvist certainly didn't.
"Hank needed to be better than usual the way we came out," Dubinsky said. "We found a way to win – we were back on our heels a lot, but good teams find a way to win when they're not playing their best. And I can't say we've done that too many times this year. That was a huge two points."
Lundqvist explained, "The first 10 minutes we had a tough time, but the good thing about this year is we are able to correct things pretty fast . We don't get hurt too much, and we turn around."
It took a little more time for the Rangers to shift the momentum their way, but it turned on only their third shot. Richards won a faceoff in the Penguins' zone, allowing a closely defended Ryan McDonagh to snap off a shot from the near wall. The puck deflected off Dubinsky to Richards, who lifted a wrist shot from close range over Marc-Andre Fleury at 18:17.
"A lot of that game is the way we need to play, but it comes down to a couple of mistakes by our team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They come out of the period 1-1 even though we dictated the first 12-14 minutes."
Dubinsky then gave the Rangers a huge lift by finishing off a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush led by Ryan Callahan 3:09 into the second – a goal reminiscent of one scored by Dubinsky on a 2-on-1 rush with Callahan to decide a 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, 2010.
While Lundqvist was stopping everything the Penguins threw his way, Fleury made a critical mistake at the opposite end shortly after the third period began.
Ranging far into the left circle to play the puck, Fleury realized Marian Gaborik was bearing down on him at full speed and tried to make an ill-advised cross-ice pass -- and whiffed. Gaborik misfired, but the puck came into the slot and Stepan scored into the wide-open net before Fleury could recover.
"I thought we played well, executed well," Lovejoy said. "But we made three mistakes, and they capitalized."
An apparent James Neal goal that would have cut it to 3-2 later in the third was waved off because Chris Kunitz interfered with Lundqvist. Shortly after that, Penguins forward Jordan Staal left with an apparent left knee injury following a collision with former teammate Mike Rupp, who was called for kneeing.
"I'm turning, got my legs out, I don't move my knee but I understand the call," Rupp said. "I'm 6-5, he's 6-4, we've got long legs and sometimes those things happen. I hope he's all right."
The Penguins, who remain at home to play the Devils on Saturday night, offered no update on Staal's status after the game.