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Solid game not enough vs. hot Pens

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers winger Marian Gaborik shakes off Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin during the first period on Monday night. Gaborik scored the Blueshirts' lone goal with 3:41 remaining in the second period.

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The Rangers knew they had to be at their absolute best when they skated against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- perhaps the hottest team in the NHL -- at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

Although the Rangers were good, the Penguins were just a bit better and, as a result, the Blueshirts dropped a 3-1 decision to their Atlantic Division rivals.

With the victory the Penguins have now won seven consecutive games, and nine of 10. Their only loss in those 10 games was an overtime defeat two weeks ago at the hands of the Rangers, who have still won seven of their last 11 contests despite Monday’s loss.

“The Penguins are a good hockey club, they’re on a run, their goaltender has been playing really well, and they are opportunistic,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “They had chances to get us, and they got us. Give them credit.”

The Penguins took advantage of a Rangers miscue to score the only goal of a fairly evenly-played first period before scoring twice in rapid succession during the second period to grab a 3-0 lead.

Before the second period was complete, Marian Gaborik provided the home team with some life by ripping a shot past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at the 16:19 mark. Sprung on a long pass by Michal Rozsival from deep in the Rangers zone, Gaborik raced over the blueline and zipped a nasty shot from the top of the left circle and beat Fleury to the short side for his fifth goal of the season.

The Rangers clearly fed off the energy provided by Gaborik’s goal, both at the end of the second period and for much of the third. A pair of power plays in the final period also juiced the Blueshirts, but despite several outstanding scoring chances, the Rangers could not dent Fleury any further, and the original three-goal deficit proved too large to overcome.

“All night it was a bit of a ping-pong match, they’d have shifts in our zone and then we’d have some shifts in their zone,” said Brandon Dubinsky. “We just didn’t generate enough scoring chances, didn’t get it to the net often enough.”

Known primarily for their high-octane offense, which is led by the league’s leading scorer Sidney Crosby, the Penguins also impressed with their strong defensive play on Monday. Pittsburgh did an excellent job for much of the night -- and certainly the first two periods -- limiting the Rangers’ scoring opportunities.

“I thought they defended pretty well, they worked hard at defending tonight,” said Tortorella.

Rangers forward Brandon Prust sets a screen in front of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury under the watch of defenseman Alex Goligoski. Fleury turned in a strong game and finished with 25 saves.
When the Blueshirts did generate offense, Fleury was stout between the pipes, playing a very strong game and finishing with 25 saves.

Pittsburgh scored an extremely opportunistic goal 5:10 into the first period to grab an important 1-0 lead. The Rangers are just 2-7-0 now when surrendering the game-opening score, so when Max Talbot collected a giveaway by Ruslan Fedotenko in the Rangers zone and turned it into his fifth goal, the odds suddenly turned against the Blueshirts.

“That goal, obviously, hurts a little bit,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “The puck bounces off Feds’ glove, and I didn’t know where it was, and (Talbot) ended up throwing it into the net. It wasn’t anything we couldn’t overcome.”

Things looked even worse when Pittsburgh built a 3-0 lead with goals 75 seconds apart in the middle period. Kris Letang scored his fifth, off a pretty Crosby feed and a bad Rangers line change, at 12:01; and Chris Conner followed by sending a shot from the slot past Henrik Lundqvist, who was screened by Steve Eminger on the play, at 13:16.

“It was a pretty open game,” said Lundqvist, who made 24 saves. “They had that stretch in the second period where their transition game hurt us.”

Three seconds after Conner’s goal, Sean Avery engaged in a rousing fight with Pittsburgh’s Tyler Kennedy. Exactly three minutes after that fight, Gaborik scored his goal to give the Blueshirts some hope.

Gaborik had an impressive night, especially considering he is still battling the bug which kept him out of Saturday’s 2-1 win in Nashville. Playing in every situation -- even strength, power play, and penalty kill -- he logged 21:45 worth of ice time, scored a goal, and fired three shots on net.

Monday’s game closed out an extremely busy month of November for the Rangers, one that saw the team play 16 games in 29 days. The Blueshirts finished the month with a 9-7-0 record.

“It was a tough month,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “We had a lot of games in a short amount of time. I thought we did pretty well with it. Obviously we wanted to get this last one tonight, but overall, the whole month, I thought we worked hard.”

The Rangers will kick off the month of December with back-to-back games against the last-place Islanders, on Thursday at the Nassau Coliseum and Friday at MSG.
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