Games are always more spirited when the two combatants reside in the same division. That was certainly true over the weekend as the Penguins and New York Rangers met for a home-and-home series. Thanks to a couple spirited third-period efforts the Penguins were able to take both contests from their rival.
A quick glance at the box scores from Pittsburgh’s 8-3 and 5-2 victories would suggest dethroning the Rangers did not require the Penguins to exert an overabundance of energy, but it was the work they put into the first 40 minutes of each game which led to the team showcasing their offensive firepower in the final frame.
“We want to wear (teams) down in the first two periods,” Jordan Staal
said. “Usually the third period is our best (period) because we have invested that much into the first two. That is our game plan every night.”
On Saturday night in Pittsburgh the Penguins had to work all the way to the buzzer to take a 4-2 advantage into the third, as they clung to a 3-2 lead prior to Mark Eaton sending a wrist shot over the glove of Steve Valiquette with 0.2 seconds left in the second period. Former Penguin Michal Rozsival drew New York to within one tally at 4-3 when his slap shot got behind Marc-Andre Fleury
33 seconds into the final period.
By that point the Penguins had already worn down a youthful Rangers defense core, outshooting the blue shirts, 23-19, and constantly initiating contact in the corners by sending two players at the puck – the first to play the body and the second to swoop in to pick up the puck. It seemed as if the entire period was played in New York’s defensive zone after Rozsival’s tally and Pittsburgh exploded for four goals en route to an 8-3 triumph.
“When our game is where it needs to be, that is what it looks like,” said captain Sidney Crosby
, who had two of the Penguins’ four third-period goals. “We carry the play for most of the game and then in the third period we are able to pull away. I would say that is an area we want to be strong in.”
When the game was over Pittsburgh had played perhaps their best 60-minute performance of the season in terms of all 18 skaters executing the minute details of the system and translating the turnovers they created into pucks behind the opposing netminder.
“We have been trying to focus on spending a lot of time in the offensive zone, chipping pucks behind the defense and then working on them,” Mike Rupp said. “I think that over the course of the game, with our team speed, if you are able to get in there and be physical on their D, in the third period there might be a little hesitation or rush to make a play.
“That is when we look for turnovers and capitalize on them. That is something we have been better at over the past seven games or so.”
“Lately we have come back to the basics of working (our opposition) down low and we’ve worked them hard the first two periods,” Staal said. “Playing the full 60 minutes has been a big thing, too.”
After the Rangers stormed out of the gate with the first five shots on Monday, which should have been expected after they were outscored 13-5 their previous two games by the Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh finished the period with an 11-9 advantage in shots, increasing that advantage to 25-20 through 40 minutes, setting the stage for another dominating effort the final 20 minutes.
Rupp scored twice and Crosby once in the third period to turn an up-for-grabs contest at 2-2 into a sound 5-2 Pittsburgh victory, giving the team seven wins in their past nine games. It also marked the third time in five games the Penguins scored two or more times in the third period.
“You want to be a third-period team,” Pascal Dupuis
said. “You want to win the third period. That is how hockey works. If you are in a good position in the first and second period you can come out on top.”
The Penguins have been in better position lately, taking a lead into the final period in four of their past six games. It’s always easier to keep to your game plan when you are the team with the higher total on the scoreboard.
“We have been playing better the first two periods and that is why we don’t have to come back in every game,” Dupuis said. “As long as we play a strong puck-possession game in the third period we will be fine.”