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Rangers complete road sweep of Pens

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Brandon Prust congratulates Henrik Lundqvist on his fourth consecutive victory Sunday. Lundqvist made 38 saves and kept the Blueshirts in the game with 19 stops in the second period alone.

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By Jim Cerny,

Buoyed by the news that Henrik Lundqvist was healthy enough to start his 17th consecutive game despite suffering from a stiff neck -- not to mention his 38 saves -- the Rangers rallied on a pair of third-period power play goals to beat the Penguins 5-2 on Sunday afternoon at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

The victory was the fourth in a row for the Rangers, handing them their longest winning streak of the season while tightening their hold on seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 82 points. The Rangers have now won six of their last seven games.

Sunday’s win also made this the first season since 1996-97 that the Rangers had swept the Penguins in all of their matchups at Pittsburgh. The Blueshirts, who had a two-game sweep at the old Civic Arena in that 1996-97season, had not had three wins at Pittsburgh in one season since 1973-74.

“The neck didn’t feel great, but I wanted to play,” said Lundqvist. “It’s fun to play right now and I want to be out there. And this was a fun game to play. A lot of action, a lot of shots. They just kept coming because they’re such a good team. But we stayed in there and battled and found a way to win.”

A wild sequence of events took place in the first half of the third period that saw the Rangers’ fate sink quite low before rising quite high.

With the score tied 1-1, Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke leveled Rangers rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh with an elbow to the jaw 4:36 into the third. Cooke was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct -- and subsequently suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs -- but the Rangers struggled mightily at the start of the power play. And then Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz stole the puck at center ice and had his long slap shot deflect off Dan Girardi’s stick and over Lundqvist’s shoulder for a shorthanded goal, giving the Pens their first lead of the game at 6:26.

Rangers forward Derek Stepan celebrates his 19th goal of the season at 18:45 of the third period. The goal, assisted by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, put the Rangers comfortably ahead of the Pens at 4-2.
Shortly thereafter, though, the Rangers caught another break, and they took full advantage of this one. Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen accidentally caught Ryan Callahan across the nose with a high stick, and, with Callahan left bleeding on the ice, Niskanen was handed a four-minute double-minor at 7:54.

Skating 5-on-3 the Rangers pulled even as Marian Gaborik buried a rebound of Brandon Dubinsky’s shot at 9:28, just eight seconds before the two-man advantage was due to expire. The goal was Gaborik’s 22nd of the season and fifth in the last five games.

Rejuvenated by Gaborik’s clutch goal, the Rangers struck again only 11 seconds later to grab a 3-2 lead. This time Callahan, from a sharp angle on right wing, whizzed a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury high into the cage for his team-leading 23rd goal at 9:39, and the Rangers had their second important power-play goal in a row.

“It would have been pretty easy to get down on ourselves and hang our heads after letting up that goal on the power play, but to our credit we showed a lot of character to come back,” said Callahan. “All year we’ve been fighting in these one-goal games and dogfights in the third period, so we’re used to it and just go out there and do what we have to do.”

The Rangers put the game away after killing off a Pens power play late in the third. Derek Stepan converted a rebound of a McDonagh breakaway out of the penalty box with 1:15 to play, and Dubinsky followed with an empty-net goal at 19:20.

“We couldn’t quit, especially not at the time of year it is,” said Callahan, who had a goal and two assists on Sunday. “We had to come back after a tough second period, and after that shorthanded goal. We needed these two points. To a man, we knew that and got it done.”

If there was any question as to whether or not Lundqvist was healthy enough to play on Sunday, he quickly dispelled any concerns with a sharp save in front as James Neal crashed his crease just 10 seconds into the game. Lundqvist then proceeded to stop nine of 10 shots in the first period, and followed with an outstanding 19-save second period as the two teams reached the second intermission tied 1-1.

Moving with smooth efficiency, Lundqvist calmly denied one scoring chance after another for the Penguins. His positioning was routinely sound, and his neck did not seem to bother him in the least as he frustrated the Pens time and again.

“It feels great that we are finding ways to win even when not at our best,” said Lundqvist. “That’s huge because there is no way you are going to play your best every night. It is more important as a team to have that skill where you find different ways to win.”

Forward Marian Gaborik is congratulated at the Rangers bench after scoring a 5-on-3 power-play goal to tie the score 2-2 at 9:28 of the third period.
The only goal Lundqvist surrendered through 40 minutes of play was scored by Jordan Staal on a complete breakaway 15:59 into the opening period. Staal slipped in behind Girardi, accepted a perfect pass on to the tape from Neal, and beat Lundqvist with a forehand finish for his 10th goal of the season to tie the game at one goal apiece.

After weathering Pittsburgh’s strong start in the first half of the opening period, the Rangers actually scored the game’s first goal. Standing just in front of Fleury, Artem Anisimov quickly converted a pass that came from behind the goal line off the stick of Callahan for his 18th goal of the season at 11:20 of the first.

The goal was scored during the Rangers’ best shift of the game to that point, one that saw the visitors engaged in the offensive zone for a prolonged stretch due to an outstanding forecheck led by Callahan, Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky, and supported by defensemen Michael Sauer and McDonagh.

McDonagh and Sauer were just two of the defensemen that stepped up on Sunday with All-Star Marc Staal missing from the lineup due to an undisclosed injury. Steve Eminger skated with Girardi on the top defensive pair, playing a strong 24:19. Matt Gilroy returned to the lineup and paired with veteran Bryan McCabe.

“We’ve had injuries left and right all year,” said McDonagh. “But yet again today we had guys step up. Emi played great on top pair, played really physical for us. Everyone contributed and we ended up winning the game.”

The Rangers will bring their four-game win streak back to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday when they host the visiting Florida Panthers.
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