In a bit of a statement game, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the New York Rangers by a score of 4-1 on Thursday night. Aside from the obvious importance of this divisional matchup, the Penguins needed to beat the Rangers in a big way. This one was a true confidence builder.
Accounting for both regular season and playoffs, the Penguins have defeated the Rangers only twice through their last 13 contests. They’ve been held to two or less goals in ten of those 13 games. The Rangers have also been responsible for eliminating Pittsburgh from postseason contention the past two seasons, with their 2014 series ending after New York erased Pittsburgh’s 3-1 series lead.
Simply put, Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have been a nightmare matchup for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have a new-found resiliency, which surfaced under head coach Mike Sullivan. They fell behind 1-0 in Thursday night’s contest but stormed back to score two goals in less than a minute to jump ahead 2-1. And, they didn’t look back from there.
The numbers indicate a fairly even game, with New York mostly winning the possession battle. As we witnessed on Dec. 14, it’s normally a different story. In that December matchup, the Penguins dominated from a possession and scoring-chances standpoint but failed to beat Lundqvist.
When they finally did, he didn’t respond very well.
Right around the halfway point of the second period, Lundqvist’s own teammate Ryan McDonagh ran through him as he moved to his left in order to square up with a Patric Hornqvist one-timer. Lundqvist became visually frustrated, mainly due to not receiving a stoppage in play. After barking at the referee momentarily, he took his frustrations out on the net.
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) March 4, 2016
Lundqvist left the game after two periods due to neck spasms and while the running joke is that he was more rattled than injured, the collision with McDonagh surely could have done the trick.
Following the game, Marc-Andre Fleury had an interesting take on Lundqvist’s actions when he was asked if he’d ever act the same way out of frustration.
#Pens M-A Fleury was asked if he would ever knock off the net in frustration. "No, that's baby stuff" -SK
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 4, 2016
It isn’t surprising to see the Penguins firing back when you consider the animosity between these two franchises in past years. While Fleury isn’t normally the kind of player that will speak out candidly in this way, it’s nice to see Pittsburgh has a whole new level of competitiveness in them, which seems to grow by the day.
Have the Pittsburgh Penguins Turned the Tide?
The ordeal that played out last night is reminiscent of a past occurrence that featured the Rangers’ former head coach and current Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella. You may remember when he called the Penguins’ stars a bunch of whiners.
It seems that the shoe may be on the other foot now, but if you’re a Penguins’ fan I wouldn’t necessarily count on dominating the Rangers from here on out. They’re still a team that plays an effective collapsing style fully capable of crippling Pittsburgh’s speed-based attack.
These two clubs will meet two more times this month, with the first matchup in just nine days at Madison Square Garden. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, as the Rangers will surely be looking to return to their dominance over Pittsburgh in front of their home crowd. The Penguins on the other hand, barring any setbacks prior to that matchup, may approach that game with a whole new mindset against the Blue Shirts.
Whatever the outcome may be, Pittsburgh is off to an encouraging start to the month of March, which consists of a barrage of divisional matchups that will have a major impact on their playoff bid.