By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Playing for the first time since clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Rangers fell victim to a team that still had something major to play for Thursday night at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers ended up dropping a 5-2 decision to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was seeking to secure fourth place in the East, and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Martin Biron, playing in his 500th NHL game, was scored upon on the Penguins first shot on goal--albeit a deflection off a skate in front---as he made his first appearance since March 15th. All told Biron finished with 27 saves, including a first-period beauty in which he denied Sidney Crosby on the doorstep after a pretty 2-on-1 Penguins rush.
Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 lead just 71 seconds into the game when a Kris Letang slap shot deflected off Chris Kunitz's skate, with Kunitz credited with his 25th goal of the season. However the Rangers regrouped quickly and tied the game at 4:23 when Brandon Dubinsky hammered a rebound of Ruslan Fedotenko's shot into the top of the cage for his tenth goal of the season.
The Penguins headed into the first intermission with a one-goal advantage thanks to Tyler Kennedy's goal at 8:27. Kennedy converted a rebound of Jordan Staal's initial shot for his 11th goal of the season.
Richard Park extended Pittsburgh's lead to 3-1 at the 5:11 mark of the second period when he was able to slip the puck over the goal line from the side of the net and with defenseman Dan Girardi draped all over him.
Marian Gaborik was denied on a prime opportunity to score his 42nd goal of the season midway through the second period when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned his in-tight attempt after a pretty three-man passing sequence by the Blueshirts. Gaborik remains one shy of equaling his career-high of 42 goals, with one game remaining to play Saturday at home against Washington.
The league's scoring leader, Evgeni Malkin added two more points to his total--he now has 107 points on the season--with a first-period assist and third-period goal. Malkin netted his 49th goal by one-timing a shot past Biron at 9:06 off a Kunitz feed from behind the net.
Brian Boyle netted a power play goal---following a Brooks Orpik kneeing major on Derek Stepan---with 2:14 left to play. It was his 11th goal of the season, and fifth in the last eight games. However Kris Letang scored an empty-net shorthanded goal with 49 seconds left to put the game away for Pittsburgh.
The Rangers closed out the road portion of their 2011-12 schedule with 24 victories, gaining a share of the single-season franchise record.