Penguins blow lead, lose to Rangers: ‘We got cocky’
NEW YORK — This had none of the importance of 1989. Or 1992. Or 1996. Or 2008. Or 2014. Or 2015. Or 2016.
Those were significant games in playoff years. What transpired Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden was the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions facing off against essentially the Hartford Wolfpack with a sprinkling of NHLers.
The 2016 and ’17 Penguins teams possessed an ability to put a wounded opponent away. Wednesday night’s edition allowed the Rangers to hang around and hand the Penguins a 4-3 overtime loss. All of which left Mike Sullivan seething.
“There’s a fine line between losing and winning in this league,” Sullivan said. “You can’t play 40 minutes and think you are going to win.”
Leading 2-0 at the start of the third period, the Penguins yielded three goals, and Mika Zibanejad’s short-side goal won it with 2:53 left in overtime. It was Zibanejad’s second goal of the game and 100th of his NHL career.
“We got cocky. We didn’t manage the puck. We were careless, and it bit us,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. “We got too confident and didn’t respect them enough.”
Facing Rangers rookie goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who was playing in his fifth NHL game, the Penguins came out flying. Despite going into the first intermission deadlocked 0-0, the Penguins took advantage of New York’s relatively inexperienced defense corps. Entering the game, the foursome of Ryan Sproul, Neal Pionk, Rob O’Gara and John Gilmour had played a total of 85 NHL games.
At the end of the first 20 minutes, the Penguins had a 14-7 advantage in shots on goal and a 22-13 advantage in shot attempts. For the game, the Penguins outshot New York, 40-33.
“We did play the right way in certain times of the game,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “That’s where we created a ton of chances. Their goalie was good.”
In a span of 55 seconds early in the second period, the Penguins flexed their offensive muscles. It began with Bryan Rust scoring his 11th of the season at 1:53. Then Riley Sheahan’s deft deflection of a Letang slap shot increased the lead to 2-0. The goal was Sheahan’s 10th of the season.
“They had some real good looks,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Georgiev finished with 37 saves, but the Penguins’ Casey DeSmith wasn’t tested often in the opening 40 minutes. In the third, however, DeSmith turned away 11 of the 14 shots he faced.
His first NHL shutout bid was spoiled by Chris Kreider’s power-play jam goal at 8:42. About six minutes later, Jesper Fast’s redirection of a Marc Staal centering pass tied the score at 2-2.
“We took that one for granted in the third,” Hagelin said.
The Penguins regained the lead on Hagelin’s wraparound goal at 15:41, but Zibanejad’s power-play goal at 16:43 tied the score again.
And Georgiev made sure the game would get to overtime, as he turned away Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot with 10 seconds left. Malkin was awarded the penalty shot after Georgiev knocked the net off its moorings.
“I certainly didn’t do it on purpose,” Georgiev said. “(I) just leaned onto the post, and it came off. I don’t know what happened to the net.”
Afterward, Sullivan was asked if his team overlooked a rebuilding Rangers squad.
“No,” Sullivan said. “Nobody’s overlooking anybody. This league is too hard.”
Denis P. Gorman is a freelance writer.