NEW YORK -- There was no discrepancy about what happened on the ice Thursday night after the Pittsburgh Penguins spent 60 minutes sucking the life out of the New York Rangers in a 3-0 victory at Madison Square Garden.
"I thought we played very well throughout the whole game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had a 60-minute game."
"It's probably the worst we've played all year, collectively," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We weren't even close tonight."
It wasn't a blowout by any means, but from the time Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins ahead 1-0 less than 90 seconds into the game until Simon Despres scored on a breakaway midway through the third period to put the contest to bed, there wasn't much doubt who was the better team.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun made 28 saves for his first shutout with the Penguins, and only a few chances truly tested him. He turned aside a hard blast from defenseman Dan Girardi and another from Marian Gaborik about a minute apart late in the first period, one in which Rangers forwards accounted for three of the team's six shots.
The Rangers struck iron with two shots in the third -- a rocket from defenseman Marc Staal hit the post, as did a drive from defenseman Anton Stralman that Vokoun was able to catch a small piece of en route.
Vokoun signed a two-year deal with the Penguins this offseason to back up starter Marc-Andre Fleury and give Bylsma a reliable option over the course of a season. With a compressed, shortened schedule, that role is even more important, and Vokoun has been terrific in beating the Rangers twice on the road this season.
"I think we knew Tomas is a very good goalie and he has pretty good numbers," Bylsma said. "He's been a starter. We knew were going to get a guy who can come in and win games, win big games for us, and he's done that twice in this building. He had two or three big saves that he had to make. He was great."
Even Vokoun admitted he wasn't overly taxed in raising his record to 2-1-0 and improving his goals-against average to 1.81 and save percentage to .940.
"It was a lot easier game," said Vokoun, who had a far more strenuous night here Jan. 20 when he made 31 saves in a 6-3 win. "Obviously the play of the team defensively was good and it was a kind of simple game for me. There was not a lot of tough decisions. We protected the back side of the net well, and when there was a loose puck, we cleared it and there [were] no second chances. I think today we played as good as we have this year."
The Rangers were playing their first game without captain Ryan Callahan, who suffered a shoulder injury Tuesday night that will keep him out of the lineup for 10-14 days. After that lackluster first period, Tortorella broke up his top line of Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash in an attempt to spark an offense that was already hurting for depth before Callahan's injury.
The move helped somewhat -- the Rangers generated 13 shots in the second period, but many of them were not dangerous and they had a hard time establishing puck possession.
All Tortorella would say on his captain's absence was, "We lose a guy that's really good in front of the net," while players didn't want to use it as an excuse for their poor showing.
"It doesn't matter who's in there," Girardi said. "I know he brings a lot of energy and finishes a lot of checks, but we have guys that can do that as well in the lineup right now. There's really no excuse."
Bylsma, however, said he could see the change in the Rangers without Callahan.
"In a lot of ways, he's a spearhead for their team and how they play," Bylsma said. "That's all over the ice -- it's power play, it's penalty kill, he's a factor defensively blocking shots and playing the other way. They still have a lot in that lineup to be nervous about and it's good, but it's a noticeable difference that he's not in the lineup."
For all the talk of how one-sided this game felt, it was still a one-goal game heading to the third period. The Penguins began the final frame with a power play after the Rangers were called for too many men on the ice late in the second.
It was the fourth time this season the Rangers were called for that infraction, and the third time the opposition made them pay with a goal.
James Neal's goal (his fifth of the season) was a work of art. He drove to the front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves, and placed his stick along the ice. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby fired a slap pass along the ice that Neal, with his back to the net, deflected through his legs, into the air, over Lundqvist's catching glove, off the crossbar and down into the net to make it 2-0.
The puck found an opening no bigger than a fist and drained what minimal hope remained in the Rangers.
"It was a big goal for us," Neal said. "Sid put an unbelievable pass on my stick and I just had to tip it."
Despres left the Penguins shorthanded with a hooking penalty later in the period, but he redeemed himself seconds after he stepped out of the penalty box.
Stralman's shot rang off the post and was cleared down the ice by Craig Adams. Staal chased down the puck in his own zone but tapped it to Pascal Dupuis, who fed it to a streaking Despres for the backhand, breakaway goal to put the game away.
"I was imagining it in the penalty box and Duper made a nice play," Despres said. "I just tried to do a quick move. I know Lundqvist is very good. I tried something and it worked."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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