The Punxsutawney Spirit
Pens chase Shesterkin again, topple Rangers 7-2 for 3-1 lead
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists to become the sixth player in NHL history to reach 200 career playoff points and the Pittsburgh Penguins throttled the New York Rangers 7-2 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Jake Guentzel scored for the fourth consecutive game and Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Mark Friedman and Mike Matheson also beat Igor Shesterkin as the Penguins chased the Vezina Trophy favorite for the second time in three days to move within one game of advancing in the postseason for the first time since 2018.
Shesterkin, who dazzled by making 118 saves in the first two games of the series at Madison Square Garden, sat out the third period after giving up six goals on 30 shots. Alexandar Georgiev allowed Evgeni Malkin’s second goal of the playoffs in the third and could find himself the starter when the series heads back to New York for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Alexis Lafreniere picked up his first career postseason goal for the Rangers to give New York an early lead, but it didn’t come close to holding. Adam Fox’s second of the playoffs pulled New York to within two late in the second period, but Pittsburgh responded by pumping in two more past Shesterkin in the waning moments as the sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena taunted the goaltender with chants of “IIIIIIIIGORRRR.”
Shesterkin, who limited the Penguins to four goals in four games during the regular season, surrendered twice that total in three periods in Pittsburgh as the Rangers — who entered the series as the favorites — limped to the cusp of a quick exit.
While Shesterkin has struggled, Pittsburgh thirdstringer Louis Domingue is nearing local cult hero status while filling in for injured All-Star Tristan Jarry. Domingue made 22 saves to win his third game of the series. Not bad for a 30-year-old journeyman making his playoff debut after spending most of the last three seasons in the minors.
Jarry, who is recovering from a broken foot, is skating and faced shots during Monday morning’s optional skate. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan hinted last week that Jarry could return if the series ran long.
Stunningly, it might not. And not in the way most imagined after the Rangers took three of four from Pittsburgh during the regular season. The Penguins were a .500 team for most of March and all of April.
May, however, has been different. The crisp, relentless pressure that defined Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup runs a halfdecade ago has returned, with a familiar face leading the way.
Crosby pulled Pittsburgh even 11:17 into the first with his first power-play playoff goal since 2018, jamming the puck under Shesterkin’s left pad and over the goal line. The puck disappeared as Crosby jabbed at it, forcing referees to take a look at the sequence on replay.
Cameras appeared to catch New York coach Gerard Gallant saying “it’s a goal” during the review. Gallant was right. And whatever momentum the Rangers had in the early going vanished.
Matheson started Pittsburgh’s second-period onslaught with a shot from the point the deflected off Rangers forward Frank Vatrano’s skate and by Shesterkin 3:14 into the second. Guentzel’s fifth goal of the playoffs 22 seconds later made it 3-1.
Defenseman Mark Friedman, he of the 41 career NHL games, scored his first career playoff goal 11:22 into the second. Fox’s goal a little less than three minutes later appeared to give New York life.
It didn’t last long. Heinen — who netted the winner in Game 3 — deflected one by Shesterkin with 1:07 to go in the second and Carter’s redirect 39 seconds later pushed the advantage to 6-2 and signaled the end of Shesterkin’s night. Again.
NOTES: The victory was Sullivan’s 44th of the playoffs, breaking a tie with former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma for most postseason wins in franchise history . ... Pittsburgh played without injured F Rickard Rakell and D Brian Dumoulin (lower-body injury) . ... Crosby’s 200 playoff points are one behind Jaromir Jagr for fifth all-time. Wayne Gretzky is atop the list with 395.