NEW YORK -- With Wayne Gretzky and his wife in the front row at Madison Square Garden, Pittsburgh's gritty third-line winger Mike Rupp put on a show that probably even impressed The Great One himself.
Not even a left knee injury could stop Rupp from recording his first career NHL hat trick, which lifted the Penguins to a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Monday night.
Rupp left the game briefly in the third period after he was hit from behind and into the boards by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. He said he had to walk off the pain on the inner part of his left knee, but he missed only five minutes and wound up scoring the game-winning goal on his first shift back with just 8:46 remaining in the game.
He also scored a go-ahead goal 7:33 into the second period by whacking the puck into the net from his position near the left post off an in-zone faceoff win by Jordan Staal. Rupp added an empty-netter with 1:40 to play in the third to complete the hat trick.
Pittsburgh also got a pair of goals and an assist from Sidney Crosby, who now has 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in his last 10 games, including eight in the last two against the Rangers, to improve to 3-0 against New York this season and 19-9-0 overall.
Crosby has 44 points in 31 career games against the Rangers while Rupp now has four goals and two assists in 28 games against his longtime division rival.
"Hey, I'm on the receiving end of some good hard work by (Staal) on the first one and then I just threw the puck on net (for his second goal)," Rupp humbly explained. "Obviously the third one, most of the time I wouldn't throw it down, but with two goals I'm going to try throw it down and score."
Rupp signed with the Penguins after spending the last three seasons in New Jersey. Considering the differing styles of play, he had to figure that if he worked hard enough he would get more chances to score goals in Pittsburgh than he ever did in New Jersey.
Well, he has already set a career-high with eight goals in just 28 games. His previous best was six, a number he hit twice with the Devils.
"Based on the way that they were talking to me and how they viewed me as a player, I felt I was going to get more opportunity," Rupp told NHL.com. "I knew that this team plays a different way and those opportunities would be there by going north and not sitting back."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he is not in the least bit surprised at the offensive production the team is getting from Rupp, who is also starting to get some work on the second power play unit.
"Being around the net, driving to the net and being a physical force, that's what we thought we were getting," Bylsma said.
While that's how Rupp scored his first goal of the night, his second goal, the game-winner, came off the rush thanks to a screaming high far-side slap shot that picked the top right corner of the net.
Staal and Craig Adams darted toward the net and Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival decided to go with them, leaving Rupp a wide open lane into the left circle. Adams said the shot whizzed past his ear as before hitting the top corner of the goal.
"When you have guys going hard to the net like that it backs the D off," Rupp said. "He just got out of the way so I took a step inside and just tried to throw a shot on net."
Rangers coach John Tortorella blamed Rozsival for leaving the lane open, saying he "was playing a good game up until that point." Tortorella, who called Monday's loss "discouraging" because the Rangers did show some good signs through the first 50 minutes, said it's the kind of mistake the Rangers are making all too often these days.
"Hey, I'm on the receiving end of some good hard work by (Staal) on the first one and then I just threw the puck on net (for his second goal). Obviously the third one, most of the time I wouldn't throw it down, but with two goals I'm going to try throw it down and score."
-- Mike Rupp on his hat trick Monday
They are 6-12-1 in their last 19 games after a 7-1 start to the season.
"For some reason (Rozsival) sunk into the middle and the guy basically walked in," Tortorella said. "Those are the situations where we just make a key mistake at a key time, the puck is in our net and it costs us the game."
Before Rupp scored his winner, the Rangers had some life.
Henrik Lundqvist made a huge save with two minutes to go in the second period when he stopped Staal on a shorthanded breakaway and 42 seconds later Marian Gaborik scored his second goal of the night and League-leading 21st of the season to make it 2-2.
The Rangers couldn't capitalize on the momentum swing.
"We are just making key mistakes at key times and it costs you games," Tortorella said. "It is a fine line. We simply haven't gotten it done with a key play offensively, defensively or goaltending."
Gaborik gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 3:12 into the second period, but it took all of 11 seconds for Crosby to tie the game. He beat Lundqvist high to the glove side with a backhanded shot that can either be called ridiculous or insane.
Crosby said the puck was rolling on him, allowing him to get such good lift on the shot. Crosby also deflected Mark Eaton's point shot for his 17th goal of the season with 4:09 remaining to give the Penguins a 4-2 cushion.
As good as Crosby was, and he was excellent again, the night belonged to Rupp.
"He made his presence felt for sure," Crosby said.
Contact Dan Rosen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PIT
Michael Del Zotto
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PIT
4 - 2 PIT
5 - 2 PIT
Holding the stick