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Prucha keys Rangers' win over Pens

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
It was only a few days ago when Petr Prucha informed Tom Renney and Rangers brass that he had no interest in a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.

Renney then had a decision to make. It was either make Prucha a healthy scratch for the  11th consecutive game, or insert him into the lineup and hope that the 26-year-old could contribute.

The Rangers' coach chose the latter. The move paid off.

Prucha erased a 2-1 deficit with 5:57 remaining in the third period before Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom all scored in the shootout as the Blueshirts earned a 3-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

It was a sweet moment for Prucha, who hadn't played since Nov. 8 against the Washington Capitals. Wednesday's tally was his first in 21 games since Jan. 31.

''I felt pretty nervous before this game,'' said Prucha, who scored 30 goals as a rookie in 2005-06 but has only 30 since. ''I felt like it was my last chance to show that I can play. I am really glad that I scored. I knew I'm ready for a game. That kept my confidence higher than before.''

Renney was thrilled with the play of Prucha, who collect Scott Gomez's rebound off the end boards and put it past Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin to bring the Garden faithful to their feet.

''He was a very hungry hockey player tonight,'' Renney said. ''He was rewarded for that.''

Henrik Lundqvist earned his NHL-leading 16th victory — including six in shootouts, during which he's allowed just three goals in 19 attempts. Overall, the Rangers are 7-1 in shootouts this season.

Prucha's goal helped New York avoid its second straight defeat following a three-game winning streak, which included two shootout wins on a Florida trip. Five of the Rangers' last six victories have been by shootout.

''I am lucky to have such great scorers on the team who score every time,'' said Lundqvist, who allowed a goal to Kris Letang in Round 2. ''Every once in a while I let one in, too, but it doesn't really matter because they're on fire.''

Wednesday marked the second time this season that the Rangers have rallied from two goals down to beat the Penguins in a shootout. Overall, the Penguins have lost their last seven visits to Madison Square Garden.

"It's a frustrating loss," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "They were able to capitalize on the rest of their chances and we couldn't."

After falling behind 2-0, Zherdev got things going at 10:56 of the second period when he redirected a blast from Gomez past Sabourin for his ninth goal of the season and the Rangers' first tally in 108:52.

On Oct. 25 at the Garden, Zherdev erased a 2-1 deficit with 8.1 seconds remaining against Pittsburgh in a game the Blueshirts ended up winning in the shootout.

"I think everyone stepped up tonight," said Gomez, whose assist was the 400th of his career. "The way we played from the second period on is the team we need to be."

Eaton had the lone goal of the first period, one that was made possible by captain Sidney Crosby. After spending the early part of the game jabbing with Colton Orr, Crosby flew past Dmitri Kalinin, circled the net and sent passout in front for Eaton, who rammed it past Lundqvist to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. It was Eaton's first goal since April 6, 2006 -- a span of 91 games.

 
 
''It's motivating sometimes when guys are coming after you like that,'' Crosby said. ''It's not a guy you expect. I don't know if that's what he needed to do to prove his toughness, to come after me.''

Pittsburgh went up by a pair 9:35 into the second period when Long Island native Rob Scuderi's slap shot from the right point struck Jordan Staal and caromed into the net for the latter's eighth goal. Lundqvist angrily swept the puck out of the crease.

But the Penguins failed to get anything else past Lundqvist, who made 29 saves. The shootout win allowed the Rangers to extend their lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division to six points. New York also grabbed a two-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference, though both the Penguins and Bruins have four games in hand.

''It's a frustrating loss,'' said Eaton, who played in his 400th NHL game. ''They were able to capitalize on the rest of their chances and we couldn't.''
 
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.


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