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Rangers stay hot, top Penguins in SO
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Benoit Pouliot scored a pair of goals and Brad Richards netted the deciding marker in the shootout, lifting the New York Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final game for both teams prior to the Olympic break.
Dan Girardi added a goal and an assist and Henrik Lundqvist came up with 26 saves to help the Rangers deal the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins to only their second loss in their last 18 tests at CONSOL Energy Center.
New York, meanwhile, heads into the hiatus having notched wins in five of its last six outings.
Pittsburgh fell despite a 38-save effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, but still managed to nab a point when James Neal scored with 2:56 left in regulation to forge a 3-3 tie.
Neal and Olli Maatta each finished with a goal and an assist for the Penguins, with Evgeni Malkin accounting for Pittsburgh's other score.
"We were lucky to take one point," said Malkin. "The last 10 minutes I think we played better than the Rangers, but the whole game we need to play 60 minutes and [over] 60 minutes we did not play great."
The loss furthered dampened an already tough day for Pittsburgh, which revealed earlier Friday that standout defenseman Kris Letang suffered a mild stroke last week and will be out of action for a minimum of six additional weeks.
Lundqvist turned back Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby in the shootout before Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers the upper hand by placing a backhander between Fleury's legs.
Malkin kept Pittsburgh alive with a successful 5-hole attempt on Lundqvist to begin the third round, but Richards followed with a riser over Fleury's right shoulder for the clincher.
"I thought we deserved this win with the way that we played the whole game," said Lundqvist.
The Rangers appeared on their way to prevailing in regulation before Maatta won a battle for the puck in the New York zone and delivered an on-target centering pass that Neal flicked past Lundqvist in the 58th minute.
New York had taken a 3-2 edge courtesy of Pouliot's second of the night, a power-play tally in which Girardi's long drive went left of the net and caromed right to the Rangers wing on the doorstep with 10:36 remaining in the third period.
Pouliot also potted the game's initial goal a mere 64 seconds in, alertly poking in a puck left loose in the crease by Fleury following a left-skate stop on Zuccarello.
Pittsburgh drew even on its first power-play opportunity of the night, which came just past the midway stage of the opening period. A shot from the point by Paul Martin was deflected in front and blocked by Lundqvist, but Maatta swept in uncovered from the left side to tap home the rebound and tie the score at 1-1.
New York surged back ahead early in the second period, needing only four seconds to capitalize on a slashing call to Neal with 30 seconds elapsed in the frame.
Derick Brassard won the resulting faceoff and worked the puck back to Girardi, who fired a shot into the top right corner of the net with Pouliot setting a screen.
"It was a night where it was about the special teams and we came up big [in that area]," Lundqvist remarked.
The Penguins knotted things up once again later in the period by virtue of another man-advantage goal, with Malkin's blast from the right circle landing over Lundqvist's right shoulder 18 seconds after New York's Rick Nash was sent off for inference.
Pittsburgh had killed off 30 consecutive penalties on home ice prior to Girardi's goal, a streak dating back to Dec. 16 against Toronto ... Both teams ended 2-for-4 on the power play ... Brassard and Zuccarello each extended their point streaks to six games, while Malkin and Neal are riding five-game runs ... The Penguins and Rangers will each be sending seven players to Sochi, with Crosby captaining defending goal medal winner Canada and Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma piloting the United States squad. Lundqvist (Sweden), Malkin (Russia), Nash (Canada), Martin (U.S.), Jokinen and Maatta (Finland) and Zuccarello (Norway) are also among those to participate.
02/07 23:30:07 ET