The Rangers are headed to Pittsburgh on an even playing field.
Coming off a draining triple-overtime loss, the Blueshirts managed to look energized for much of Game 2 to grind out a 5-2 victory over the Penguins on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden and even the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series 1-1.
Both clubs were shorthanded coming into Thursday after 106 minutes of playoff hockey two nights earlier took its toll. While the Rangers were down one of their key forwards in Barclay Goodrow (undisclosed) and top defenseman in Ryan Lindgren (lower-body), the Penguins were down to their third-string goalie, Louis Domingue, and without one of their top defenseman in Brian Dumoulin (lower-body).
Pittsburgh’s trade-deadline acquisition Rickard Rakell was also out after taking a big hit from Lindgren in Game 1. Despite the personnel changes, the game’s intensity did not lessen.
The Garden crowd chanted goalie Igor Shesterkin’s name as effortlessly as they once did Henrik Lundqvist’s, and there was plenty to cheer for as he came up with 39 saves. The third period was where the fans had to show the most appreciation, when Shesterkin made stop after stop to preserve a one-goal lead that ballooned to a three-goal edge thanks to his efforts.
First, Shesterkin denied Penguins second-line center Evgeni Malkin’s one-timer from the bottom edge of the faceoff circle. Then the Rangers netminder came up with a big stop on Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby on the doorstep minutes later. The Penguins outshot the Rangers 8-0 in the first five minutes of the final frame, but Shesterkin stood tall.
Artemi Panarin banked one off Penguins defenseman Michael Matheson in front before Frank Vatrano sniped one off the rush to give the Rangers a comfortable lead in the third.
It was evident from puck drop that the referees were going to be stingy with their whistles — not that they used them much in Game 1, either. In fact, after the end of the first period, it had been 117 minutes since the last penalty was called on Pittsburgh. The Garden crowd made sure the officials heard its displeasure, levying obscenities at the men in stripes.
That streak ended in the middle frame and the Rangers ultimately had four power plays on the night.
Penguins defenseman John Marino was called for cross checking just over a minute into the second period and the Garden rejoiced in the form of echoing cheers. They weren’t nearly as loud as the ones that followed for Ryan Strome’s power-play goal that broke a 1-1 tie.
With six seconds left on the power play, Strome tipped in Adam Fox’s shot from the top of the zone at 2:59.
Chris Kreider gave the Rangers a two-goal lead later in the period, tipping in a Vatrano shot for his second tally of the series. But the Rangers continued to struggle in their efforts to contain Crosby and linemates Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
Crosby made his way to the net and took on several Rangers in the process, resulting in a tremendous individual effort that led to him cleaning up a Rust rebound for the 3-2 score with 1:26 left in the second.
The Rangers struck first when Panarin, with all the time in the world, fed Andrew Copp in the slot for the one-timer and the 1-0 lead at 6:50 of the first period. Just over two minutes later, however, the Penguins got it right back.
A Panarin turnover sent Crosby and the rest of Pittsburgh’s top line the other way, which ultimately led to Guentzel scoring his third goal of the series to knot the game at one.