Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Game 60: Penguins vs. Rangers Recap

Coming into Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins had not beaten the New York Rangers at home since 2009. The task of ending that streak seemed daunting since the Rangers own the top spot of the Eastern Conference and a goaltender that has not only been mentioned in Vezina talk but also MVP talk. The Penguins were coming off of one of their worst losses of the year at Buffalo on Sunday and they responded remarkably with a 2-0 victory over the Rangers.

Brooks Orpik sat out of this game with an injury which forced Kris Letang and Paul Martin to be the top defensive pairing. Initially, that was something to fear with the way that Martin has played this season but this game was different. Martin played an excellent game alongside Letang which contributed to Marc-Andre Fleury tying Tom Barrasso for the franchise record with 22 shutouts. Martin playing well would be significant for the Penguins because it would not only bolster a struggling blue line but it would also increase his value in the trade market.

The first period was a typical period for the Penguins. They dominated the pace of play and accumulated an abundance of offensive zone time while outshooting the Rangers 11-6. However, they were unable to bury any of their chances which left the door open for the Rangers to kill the momentum quickly.

The Rangers were unable to capitalize on that chance. Just one minute into the second period, Letang chipped the puck to a wide open Evgeni Malkin streaking down the left side of the neutral zone. The only person Malkin had to beat was Henrik Lundqvist. Malkin displayed incredible patience by forcing Lundqvist to make the first move and he did. Lundqvist went down and Malkin lifted a backhander over the netminder for the game's first goal.

Steve Sullivan added a power play goal ten minutes later. He shot the puck from the blue line and it went in the net past Lundqvist who was being screened by Matt Cooke.

The win for the Penguins did a ton for their confidence but did equally as little for them in the standings. They are still eight points back of the Rangers and still remain in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. They are victims right now of being located in the Atlantic Division which is one of the best in hockey and certainly the best in the conference. Four of the five teams in the conference have more points than anyone else in the conference but the three division winners get the top three seeds which dramatically hurt the Penguins' chances for home ice in playoffs. However, continuing to beat the top tier teams will do nothing but help that situation.

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