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Conner nets pair, Penguins solve Rangers

by Dan Rosen
NEW YORK -- A rookie going through a serious scoring drought broke out for the New York Rangers, but it wasn't enough to top the one player who had to battle a driving rainstorm just to get to the Big Apple for Monday night's game.

Pittsburgh winger Chris Conner was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the morning to replace Bill Guerin in the lineup. He didn't in arrive in Manhattan until 3 p.m., and shortly after is when he found out he was going to skate on a line with Sidney Crosby.

Conner used his best asset, his speed, to score a pair of goals, including the winner with 9:14 remaining. He stole the spotlight from Rangers rookie Artem Anisimov and lifted the Penguins to a 4-2 victory, their second in a little over 24 hours.

For Conner, who had seven goals in 71 games with Dallas from 2006-09, it was his first two-goal game in the NHL. It was for Anisimov, too, as he scored for the first time in 18 games, but he had less to brag about afterwards.

"It's definitely up there," Conner said when asked where this game ranks in his brief NHL career. "I'm not going to lie, it's been fun. It's probably right there with the debut and maybe my first goal. It's awesome. It was definitely a blast, a great day."

Marc-Andre Fleury, who missed the last four games, including three as a scratch due to a broken finger, made 28 saves for his 26th win of the season. He gave up a tough goal to Anisimov 9:15 into the third period when the puck got caught at his feet and he edged it over the line with the back of his left skate.

That gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, but it lasted all of 31 seconds. Evgeni Malkin and Conner scored within 60 seconds to give the Penguins what turned into an insurmountable 3-2 lead. Pascal Dupuis added an empty net goal.

"If we get a one goal lead against that kind of team we just have to keep it," Rangers right wing Marian Gaborik said. "When they tied it, we can't let them score the go-ahead goal."

Gaborik was in the box for slashing Malkin when the Penguins tied it.

Malkin drove hard through middle, forcing Gaborik to whack at him with his stick. Fourteen seconds into the power play, Malkin ripped a one-timer from the right point that sailed over Henrik Lundqvist's left shoulder.

The puck nicked off of Chris Drury on its way into the net, changing course enough that Lundqvist couldn't react.

"That was bad timing," said Lundqvist, who made 24 saves. "When we got that penalty, they got a lucky goal on a deflection off our player."

The Penguins came into the game ranked 26th on the power play, but it was their seventh goal 18 chances spanning the last four games.

"We had a very focused mindset going into that one," said Crosby, who assisted on both of Conner's goals. "We don't have to reinvent everything out there, but I think it's important that we shoot the puck and that was a great example there."

Soon after Malkin's goal, Crosby knifed through the gut of the Rangers defense and got a clean shot off on Lundqvist. The Swedish goalie left a long rebound near the left circle and Conner, using his speed to join the play, whacked at it and found an opening on Lundqvist's blocker side with 9:14 to play.

He also scored his first goal of the night, just 2:47 into the game, with a shot that beat Lundqvist on his blocker side.

"The second one was all his speed," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Sid makes a great shot by attacking and shooting through a defenseman. He creates a rebound and Chris Conner jumps on that. If he can put loose pucks home with that speed, that's an asset."

The Rangers squandered a great chance to take a lead early in the third period when the game was tied at 1-1. They couldn't score in six consecutive minutes on the power play, or really even get momentum off of the extended power play time.

Jordan Staal was called for a high sticking double-minor when he made Vinny Prospal bleed 20 seconds into the period. With 10 seconds left on Staal's second minor, Matt Cooke went off for roughing Ryan Callahan right in front of the Rangers' bench.

New York managed just seven shots while the Penguins cleared the zone seven times and nearly scored on a pair of breakaways and a 2-on-1 rush.

"It would have been big to get three in a row," Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said. "If we get one early there, or one or two early there, then it's a different game. We just have to find a way to battle hard and at least get some momentum off of it."

Not only did they not get any momentum, thanks to Lundqvist and a great backcheck by Callahan, who raced back to strip the puck from Cooke while he was on a breakaway, the Rangers didn't go into a 2-1 hole on their power play.

"It wasn't like they had us hemmed in," Crosby said. "We did a good job of rotating guys and changing guys over. Staalsie is a big part of our PK, but other guys went in there and did a great job."

New York finally broke out of a prolonged goal-scoring slump when Anisimov blasted a wrist shot past Fleury 13:04 into the second period to tie the game at 1-1. The goal snapped a drought that lasted 156:32.

Anisimov struck again in the third period, but then watched as his arch-nemesis on this night, Conner, scored the one that mattered.

"I don't know if it ever will (sink in)," Conner said, "but it was fun."

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