NEW YORK -- When the Penguins signed forward Mike Rupp in the offseason, they knew what they were getting: a big, strong, physical player that would fight for pucks in the corners and play in front of the net. And he has delivered on that expectation.
“I’m not surprised to see him being a factor in the offensive zone, being around the net, driving to the net and being a physical force,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s what we thought we were getting.”
What the Penguins didn’t expect was Rupp’s evolution into the second coming of Kevin Stevens.
Through the first 28 games of the seasons, he already set a new single-season career high with eight goals (his previous best was six) and recorded his first career hat trick in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday night.
“A lot of his goals have been around the net. That’s what we hoped for,” Bylsma said. “Did we think he’d have eight goals at this point and time? No, but we did see him as a guy being on the scoresheet.”
“It feels good. Our team got a big win,” Rupp said. “I was able to contribute and that feels good.”
Rupp’s three goals marked the second hat trick for a Penguin player in the past two games, both coming in wins against the Rangers. Sidney Crosby
notched his fourth career hat trick in Pittsburgh’s 8-3 victory over New York on Saturday.
“It’s a division rival now,” Rupp said. “You have to treat it that way. It just feels good to win these two games.”
With forward Matt Cooke
serving a two-game suspension, Rupp was inserted onto the third line alongside Tyler Kennedy
and Jordan Staal
. To say Rupp took advantage of the increased ice time and opportunity would be an understatement.
“He played well,” Staal said of his new linemate. “He’s an undercover great hockey player. He makes the right plays. He makes my and everyone else’s life easier. He’s a big guy that can skate and he’s got a great shot. He’s got it all.”
Rupp certainly had it all against the Rangers and was the difference maker in the Penguins' win in the Big Apple.
Rupp scored his first goal to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead in the second period. Staal won a faceoff in the Rangers zone and pushed the puck towards the goal. Rupp drove to the net and managed to get two shots on net, the second of which eluded New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“I was on the receiving end of some good hard work by Staalsy on the first one,” Rupp said. “I was just throwing the puck on net.”
Rupp netted what would be the game-winning goal 11:14 into the third period. He carried the puck into the New York zone down the near side and ripped a shot over the shoulder of Lundqvist through heavy traffic.
“The scoring touch off the wing, I was screaming pass of the pads,” Bylsma said. “I was screaming go for a rebound but he had other thoughts on his second goal going high there.”
Rupp put the finishing touches on his first three-goal performance by tallying an empty-net goal with a shot from his own blue line.
“The third one, most of the time I wouldn’t throw it down but with two goals I just tried throwing it down the ice and fortunately it went in,” he said.
Rupp did give his teammates a scare when he left the ice after hitting his knee into the boards on a check from behind by Dan Girardi in the second period.
“It’s a little sore now,” Rupp said of the knee. “I hit the boards with the inside of my knee. It was more like a Charlie horse thing. It’s fine. It’s sore but it’s fine.”
Luckily for his teammates, Rupp returned to the ice and buried the Rangers. In the process, he went home with three souvenir pucks commemorating his first-ever hat trick.
“Rupper’s an awesome guy,” Staal said. “Rupper’s an easy guy to read off of and he did a great job. He works hard and he definitely worked for that one tonight.”