Rangers’ best forwards claim win over Penguins

There was a bit of glare and a dose of good hockey from Artemi Panarin and his teammates on Thursday night, but if you think the Rangers got off the ground in their 5-2 victory in the game 2 against the Penguins at the Garden on skills and finesse, that would be wrong.

That’s because the Blueshirts tied that first round one-on-one winning only in the kind of street fighting game that’s becoming prevalent in the playoffs. Nobody dropped the gloves, that’s not what it was about. Not at all.

But it was mostly about the Rangers competing in tight corners and contested areas of the ice. It was all about supporting and recovering the puck. It was about taking the body and taking a hit to make a play while working along the walls and in the hockey trenches.

It was in response to the many times the Penguins got a piece of Igor Shesterkin, sensational once again with 38 saves – nine of them in the opening 6:51 of the third period while protecting a 3-2 lead .

Hey, with Brian Burke and Ron Hextall in the Pittsburgh front office, and with Evan Rodrigues tripping Shesterkin in the crease at 1:00 of the first period, it’s not hard to believe this is part of the game plan organisation. The goalkeeper was shoved early then later (plus a few times in between) with Jeff Carter getting a piece of the goalkeeper with 2:04 remaining in the game as the No.31 tried to get back into the net after playing the puck behind the goal line.

“I wasn’t very happy in a game like that, there was no reason for it,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “I was disappointed that they went after him a bit like that.

A fight breaks out in the third period after Jeff Carter collides with Igor Shesterkin.
A fight breaks out in the third period after Jeff Carter collides with Igor Shesterkin.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“Carter is a good honest player, but it didn’t look good to me.”

The win was also about not allowing Sidney Crosby and teammates Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust into the express lane to avoid traffic, even though that unit scored both of Pittsburgh’s goals and was relentlessly dangerous. Still, they had to work for their chances, and they did, racing and then simply cutting the Blueshirts from end to end.

Rangers were going to need more of their top-notch forwards in this near-essential first game of Gallant’s tenure. And they got more. Frank Vatrano, who had a quiet Game 1, was involved throughout. His top drive was deflected home by Chris Kreider for a 3-1 lead at 12:06 of the second before Vatrano powered past Louis Domingue on a dash on the right boards for the 5-2 goal at 9:49 of the third.

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Mika Zibanejad worked 200 feet to draw the Crosby game about 50% of the time in what became an analytical saw. Ryan Strome scored on a power-play deflection while Andrew Copp scored his second goal in two games, this one courtesy of a fine pass from Artemi Panarin.

Ah, Panarin, who had an affair there. He did more with the puck than in Tuesday’s opener. He created. He made this nifty play to set up Copp. He scored the critical 4-2 goal at 8:02 of the third (after the Penguins had nine of the first 10 shots of the period) conceding one against defenseman Mike Matheson after shaking Kris Letang around the circle.

“Actually, I was looking [Jacob] Trouba,” Panarin said, not lying. “I was trying to give him the puck.”

It’s just as well when Matheson was the middle man.

Artemi Panarin (middle) celebrates with his Rangers teammates during the team's Game 2 win over the Penguins.
Artemi Panarin (middle) celebrates with his Rangers teammates during the team’s Game 2 win over the Penguins.

But Panarin also committed a huge first-half turnover that sparked the streak on which Guentzel tied the game 1-1 at 8:52, when Crosby removed his errant feed in the neutral zone. And the No.10 was also at fault on the back check, failing to pick up and stay with Crosby on the run on which the No.87 scored on a rebound to make it 3-2 with 1:26 to go in the second period.

“Honestly, I can’t tell if he was really good or really bad without watching the game,” Gallant said. “He made some big plays and he was a big part of the power play, which was good. When you train a game like this with this intensity, I didn’t focus on the individual players.

Fair enough. The Rangers fired more of their big guns. They got more from their team. They needed it. They’ll need more when the series moves to Pittsburgh for the next two games. But the way the Blueshirts reacted in this one and arrived in Domingo late, there’s reason to believe.

New York Post

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