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Penguins humbled by third-period letup, loss to Rangers

Bemoan overconfidence, missed opportunity to pick up crucial point in stretch drive

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Pittsburgh Penguins did the worst thing a team can do against a weaker opponent Wednesday.

"We took that one for granted," Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin said.

For a team like the Penguins, who are fighting for first place in the Metropolitan Division, giving up leads in the third period - and surrendering a point it should have had - can't happen regardless of the opponent. Even if it's one like the New York Rangers, playing with a backup rookie goaltender in Alexandar Georgiev and are essentially auditioning for jobs for next season.

The Penguins lost 4-3 in overtime against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden after blowing leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the third. Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, who tied the game on a power-play goal with 3:17 remaining in regulation, scored at 2:53 to hand Pittsburgh a humbling loss.

Video: PIT@NYR: Zibanejad nets OT winner for 100th goal

The one point was enough to get Pittsburgh into a tie with the Washington Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division standings, but the Capitals are still first because they have two games in hand.

"We just can't give them that third period," Hagelin said. "Hopefully, that's a learning thing for us."

It might seem surprising, but even for a team like the Penguins, back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, there is a lesson to be learned from a loss like that which they should take into their game against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN2, RDS, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

"You never arrive," coach Mike Sullivan said.

The only way to convince a championship team of that is to go through an experience like the Penguins went through at the Garden.

They got overconfident, according to defenseman Kris Letang. And they paid the price.

"Whether it's a success or a failure, there is always something you can take away from it that will help you be a better person or a better player or a better team," Sullivan said. "And we try to heed all the lessons."

Video: PIT@NYR: Sheahan angles home Letang's big blast

Let's be clear, though. Disrespecting an opponent that for 40 minutes looked overmatched, and getting one point out of a game they should have gotten two, isn't the be-all, end-all of the Penguins' season.

If anything, it's human nature that something like that happens, because the Penguins know they're going to make the playoffs and know the opportunity to "Three-peat" is real.

However, if analyzed properly, what happened at the Garden, especially juxtaposed against what happened in the third period of their 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday, should turn into teaching points for Sullivan.

Pittsburgh played arguably its best third period of the season against the Stars. The Penguins preserved a 2-1 lead by limiting Dallas to four shots on goal, one in the final 10 minutes, and 11 total shot attempts before Evgeni Malkin sealed the win with an empty-net goal at 19:16.

"Against Dallas, everyone bought in in the third," Hagelin said. "We got pucks out. We didn't give them any chances because we were playing hard, playing smart."

The opposite happened against the Rangers.

"We were swinging away from pucks and we were not winning battles," Hagelin said. "The Rangers did a good job of creating chances off our mistakes."

Pittsburgh allowed New York 17 shots on goal and 23 total shot attempts in the final 22:53, including overtime. The Penguins had seven giveaways in the third period. They committed two penalties and the Rangers scored on both. 

"We totally ruined it," Letang said.

Hagelin said the Penguins were lucky to even get a point with the way they played in the third, by trying to make the hard play instead of just chipping the puck out and forcing the Rangers to retreat and try to come 200 feet to score.

"We stopped playing," he said. "We're not a tough team to play against if we're not doing everything the right way. You could see that. They came in waves. They kept creating chances after chances. We just looked flat.

"I'm hoping that's a wakeup call for us."

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