Undermanned Rangers rally to beat Penguins
J.T. Miller scored short-handed to cap a second-period rally, helping the undermanned Rangers overcome an early two-goal deficit to beat the Penguins 5-2.
The New York Rangers aren’t about to let the loss of two top forwards derail their hot start.
The Rangers were hit with adversity the previous two days, first on Sunday after learning Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich would miss extended time because of injury, and the following day when they fell behind early against their division rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rick Nash sparked a comeback, though, and J.T. Miller scored short-handed to cap a second-period rally, helping the Rangers overcome an early two-goal deficit to beat the Penguins 5-2 on Monday night.
“We know a lot about this team because we played them so much over the last handful of years,” Miller said. “I think we were on our heels a little too much to start, a little too passive. I thought we were a lot more aggressive after that, and when we did that, we forced them into more turnovers and got a couple lucky bounces.”
The teams play again Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to complete a pivotal, early season home-and-home between Metropolitan Division contenders. The Penguins have lost four of six and trail the first-place Rangers by four points.
Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel scored twice in the first period of his first NHL game, but Rick Nash and Michael Grabner made it 2-2 before Miller, a Pittsburgh native, got his eighth of the season.
Kevin Hayes added his ninth goal midway through the third, and Derek Stepan also scored into an empty net.
Antti Raanta, starting the second game of a backto-back for New York, rebounded after the first period and made 29 saves for his fifth win in six games.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots for Pittsburgh. It was the first time he started two straight games since Matt Murray returned earlier in the month from a broken hand.
“It’s a long season and things aren’t always going to go your way,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “What’s most important, from our standpoint, is how we react to it. That’s the lesson we need to learn from this game.”
Zibanejad, injured a day earlier against Florida, is expected to miss six to eight weeks for the Rangers with a broken leg, while Buchnevich is out two to three weeks with a back injury. Zibanejad had five goals and 15 points in 19 games, while Buchnevich scored four goals and eight points in 10 games.
That didn’t deter the Rangers on Monday, as New York, with an NHL-best 81 goals through 20 games, was able to rally.
Miller scored in the final minute of the second period to put the Rangers ahead. A centering pass deflected off Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin before hitting Miller and going past Fleury.
The Rangers next goal was also a lucky one, as Ryan McDonagh’s centering pass hit off Hayes’ skate and went behind Fleury.
“The game didn’t start the way we wanted, but I thought after the first period we settled down,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “That’s a really strong team, but we were able to do what we had to do to get the job done.”
Guentzel made his debut against the same team that drafted his father Mike in the seventh round in 1981. The younger Guentzel scored on the first shot of his first shift, a similar feat accomplished by Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux 32 years earlier. Guentzel’s wrist shot from below the left faceoff dot sneaked between Raanta’s pads 1:02 into the game. It was the fastest goal by a Penguins player making his NHL debut.
His second goal came exactly 12 minutes later. Malkin tipped Phil Kessel’s initial shot, and Guentzel put the rebound behind Raanta from the slot.
Guentzel, the Penguins’ 2013 third-round pick, was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate in WilkesBarre/Scranton earlier in the day. He had seven goals and 17 points in 16 AHL games, leading the team and ranking among the league leaders.
“It’s a dream come true to play here,” Guentzel said. “Whenever you get the chance, you want to make the most of it.”
This was the first meeting between the division rivals since the Penguins eliminated the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs last spring. It marked the third straight year the teams met in the postseason — the Rangers won the first two meetings before losing to the Stanley Cup champions last season.
Guentzel is the fifth player in team history to score his first NHL goal on his first shift. He is the third Nebraska-born player in NHL history to score a goal . ... Malkin has points in seven straight home games . ... Penguins F Chris Kunitz, who has 11 points in 18 games, is considered week-to-week with a lowerbody injury . ... Patric Hornqvist, who missed the last three games with a concussion, skated on his own before the Penguins’ morning skate.
The teams complete their home-and-home at Madison Square Garden today.
J.T. Miller celebrates short-handed goal with teammates during Rangers’ victory over Penguins.