PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers have created a four-team race within the Metropolitan Division.
Rick Nash and Derek Stepan each scored two goals to help lead the Rangers to a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Sunday. New York is tied with the Washington Capitals for third in the division, five points behind the New York Islanders.
After entering the third period down three goals, the Penguins were given a spark when forward David Perron split defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh before sliding the puck through Henrik Lundqvist's five-hole to cut the Rangers lead to 4-2 at 4:16 of the third.
Stepan didn't allow that spark to last long. Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang attempted to clear the puck from the crease, but sent it to Stepan, who got a wrist shot by goalie Thomas Greiss to reestablish New York's three goal lead with his second goal of the game 6:15 into the period.
"I'm real pleased with how we played this afternoon," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I felt we played a real solid game at both ends of the rink. We didn't give them much 5-on-5 in the first two periods. They had a little bit more in the third there, but that's why we have our goaltender."
The Rangers (26-13-4) pulled to within two points of Pittsburgh for second place in the division with a game in hand. The Penguins (26-12-6) are 6-8-3 against division opponents this season after losing to the Rangers and Islanders by a combined score of 11-5 in their past two games.
"I think every team you play in your division is a different scenario," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "With the Islanders, we had a chance the other night to even the series basically against them and with 14 minutes left in the game, they tie the game. We had a chance that night to even the series.
"Tonight, we had another chance to even the series against the Rangers … Is there any one thing you can pinpoint? No, I don't think there is."
New York scored two goals in each of the first two periods to take a 4-1 lead into the second intermission.
Nash's second goal gave the Rangers a two-goal cushion when his wrist shot deflected off of Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi's stick in the crease and bounced over Marc-Andre Fleury's right shoulder before landing in the net at 2:39 of the second period. Nash leads the NHL with 28 goals, one more than Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin.
"They have so much skill, so much talent, and I think we just try to play our style of hockey," Nash said. "We have success against them and then we play a team like Tampa and can't have any success, so it's funny how a game works … I think guys were on their A-game. We stuck to the game plan and coming off a hard-fought game two days ago, this was a big win."
Stepan added a fourth Rangers goal when Martin St. Louis faked going to the net, drawing coverage, and sent a pass to Stepan in the left faceoff circle. Stepan's snap shot chased Fleury from the game with the goalie's fourth goal allowed on 17 shots at 5:34 into the second.
Greiss replaced Fleury and made seven saves to finish the period. Pittsburgh was outshot 12-3 through much of the second before recording five unanswered shots over the final 1:48.
The first period followed a similar formula. Nash opened the scoring before the Rangers extended the lead with a second goal, but Sidney Crosby gave Pittsburgh life by pulling the Penguins to within one goal by period's end.
While on Pittsburgh's third power play of the first, Perron sent a shot-pass into the New York crease that Crosby stopped with his right skate. Crosby settled the puck and shoveled a shot by Lundqvist to cut the Rangers' lead to 2-1 with 4:52 remaining in the period.
Since scoring two goals in 17 games, Crosby has averaged one goal over his past four games. He leads the Penguins with 51 points, one more than Evgeni Malkin, and is four goals behind Malkin for the team lead.
"We definitely got some bad bounces, but we didn't really give ourselves a chance to get back in it," Crosby said. "We get the goal there and they end up getting the next one. Then we get a two-goal game again [in the third] and they get the next one pretty quick. So, regardless of the bounces we got, I don't think we did a good enough job of giving ourselves a chance to play."
Outside of Crosby's goal, the Rangers dominated the first period, starting with Nash's first goal 26 seconds into the game.
A pass from Brandon Sutter got through Letang at the point and bounced off the boards to Nash, who streaked into the offensive zone toward Fleury. Nash sent a wrist shot past defenseman Paul Martin and by Fleury's blocker for a 1-0 New York lead.
Derick Brassard added to the Rangers lead a few minutes later after a slap shot from Kevin Klein missed high and ricocheted off the glass behind the net and back into the crease. Brassard collected the rebound and whipped a wrist shot past Fleury's glove for New York's second goal, 6:08 into the first.
"I think it's fun when you play against the best players," Lundqvist said. "They have so many good players on the other side that you have the respect for them, but at the same time, you definitely want to beat them. It's a challenge every time to come here and play them. A lot of the time, it's a fast game.
"We respect their skill. It looks like we try to play a smart game and make good decisions with the puck … It's fun. Every time we come in here, we try to beat them."