Ill-intent and pre-eminent skill met at Madison Square Garden last night.
“I think we did pretty good, but it’s still a long season,” Marian Gaborik said after the Rangers beat Pittsburgh, 4-3. The Rangers have won three in a row, beating Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “We play six games against these guys so it’s always a big rivalry. [These] are four-point games so we want to make sure that we play well.”
The tone was set 16 seconds in when Sean Avery and Tyler Kennedy wrested at center ice. After their two-minute minors for roughing had expired, Avery and Kennedy fought at center ice. Two minutes and twenty one seconds had expired and Avery and Kennedy had seven penalty minutes each.
“Sean did a great job; he stood up for himself and the team,” Michael Sauer said. “It was good for us, got us going.”
At the end of the first period, the Rangers had committed 17 minutes worth of penalties, including a roughing minor to Lundqvist, and were forced to kill three power plays. By comparison, Pittsburgh had nine penalty minutes in the first 20, but did not have to penalty kill.
Pittsburgh was only able to convert on one of its three first period power plays, a Neal wrist shot with 2:04 remaining. Neal later added an assist on Malkin’s goal with six seconds left in the second.
That the Rangers went into the first intermission only trailing 1-0 was due to Henrik Lundqvist’s routine brilliance and the Penguins hitting his posts multiple times. Lundqvist made 13 saves in the first.
Ryan Callahan tied the game 1-1 with a power play stuff on Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove side at 8:01 of the second period. The captain’s ninth goal of the season capped a brilliant sequence of skill, speed and passing involving Richards and Callahan.
The Rangers grew in confidence after the goal.
Mitchell, who was called up from AHL Connecticut along with Carl Hagelin on Nov. 24, snapped a wrist shot over Fleury’s glove six minutes after Callahan’s goal to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The goal was his first in 338 games. His last goal occurred on Dec. 26, 2010, while he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mitchell’s second period goal on Martin Brodeur was the game-winner in Toronto’s 4-1 win over the Devils.
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“I can’t complain about [scoring on Brodeur and Fleury]. Every goalie in this league is pretty good, whether it’s Fleury [or] Marty, it doesn’t matter,” Mitchell said, while wearing the Broadway Hat. “You have to try to make a good shot or take a good shot.”
Richards increased the Rangers’ lead to 3-1 90 seconds later when he whipped a shot over Fleury’s glove. When Gaborik shoveled a rebound over Fleury’s right pad at 18:26, it completed the Rangers’ four-goal outburst in a span of 10:25.
“It’s just what you see,” Mitchell said of the Rangers’ penchant for shooting high to Fleury’s glove side. “You just have to try to get that shot off as quick and as hard as you can and pick the corners.”
Still, the 4-2 lead wasn’t entirely comfortable and it became tenuous after Dupuis cut the Rangers’ lead to 4-3 3:32 into the third.
The Rangers were 2-for-4 on the power play. Pittsburgh went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
“They certainly were very good on the power play and very dangerous,” said Dan Bylsma.
Fleury stopped 26 of 30 shots. Pittsburgh is 3-2-0 in the five games since Sidney Crosby’s return.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for news on all three local teams.