An opportunity missed.
That was the theme that emanated from the Rangers dressing room.
They entered Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh at the Garden having welcomed back three regulars—Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi—and their opposition was lacking superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh later lost Jordan Staal to a match penalty game misconduct for a gloved punch to the chin of Brandon Prust, and Aaron Asham to injury. The Rangers had an opportunity to cut Pittsburgh’s lead in the Eastern Conference playoff race to three points.
Not exactly the welcome back party the Blueshirts envisioned.
“It’s tough. We had a 2-0 lead and we have to find a way,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We just let that one slip away. It’s disappointing. We have a 2-0 lead at home and we let it slip away. Obviously one point is good but I don’t think we feel like it was good enough.”
Staal punched Prust during a late second period scrum along the boards. Prust had steamrolled Tyler Kennedy and Staal came over. Prust shoved Staal, who responded with a right that knocked the Rangers’ wing to the Garden ice. Staal, who has three regular season fights in his five-year NHL career, may face supplemental punishment from the NHL, which suspended Atlanta’s Ben Eager for a similar episode involving Toronto’s Colby Armstrong.
“It was just kind of surprising. It happened kind of quick. He just caught me on my sweet spot and dropped me for a second. He kind of rung my bell,” Prust said. “I think it was all just reaction. I came in and hit a guy. He kind of came in to stick up for him. He just threw a punch and (it) happened to connect.”
Staal was unavailable for comment but Dan Bylsma expressed his unhappiness with the call before brushing off any concern that his center may be suspended.
“I wasn’t particularly fond of the call,” Bylsma said. “Certainly they are going to look, and am sure they have already looked at the situation. We’ll make a judgment on that.”
One who would know is Marc Staal, Jordan’s older brother, and the Rangers’ All-Star defenseman.
“I’ve never seen him do anything like that. Sometimes when you play each other so many times in one season, things escalate. It looks like that’s what happened here, although I didn’t see it at first,” Marc Staal said. “I’ve never seen him get thrown out of a game like that.”
Prust (3:52 into the first period) and Artem Anisimov (1:41 into the second) gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with rebound goals. Prust backhanded a Brian Boyle offering into the net while Anisimov shoved a Dubinsky shot past Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury finished with 26 saves.
Dustin Jeffrey, who was Pittsburgh’s defacto No. 1 center due to the injuries to Crosby and Malkin, got the Pens on the board at 14:30 of the second with his third goal of the year. His shot appeared to hit a Rangers’ defenseman’s stick, bounce off the ice and over Lundqvist’s stick. Jeffrey also scored the shootout winning goal.
Mike Rupp tied the game at 2-2 5:36 later as he jammed a rebound of a Max Talbot shot past Lundqvist. Chris Kunitz gave the Pens a 3-2 lead with 5:28 left in the period after tipping a Zbynek Michalek shot past Lundqvist.
“You want two points right now. It’s so tight in the standings,” Lundqvist said. He made 23 saves on the night. “I hate losing in the shootout as a goalie. I made the first move on their goal. It’s disappointing.”
Ryan Callahan scored the lone Rangers goal on the five-minute power play with 12.8 seconds left in the second to tie the game at 3.
You can follow us on Twitter @DenisGorman and @MetroNewYork.
An opportunity missed.