PITTSBURGH — With their captain under fire and their season on the brink of collapse, the Pittsburgh Penguins responded with a crackling show of force.
Of course, having the New York Rangers look like a team only too happy to get back home with a split helped.
Kris Letang broke a scoreless tie in the second period, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves for his franchise-record seventh playoff shutout to lift the Penguins to a 3-0 victory on Sunday night, tying the second-round series one game apiece.
Letang’s 15th career postseason goal matched Larry Murphy’s record for Penguins defensemen. Jussi Jokinen scored during a third-period power play, and Evgeni Malkin added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who pushed around the suddenly weary Rangers.
Fleury earned his 50th career playoff victory.
“I thought to a man our players were extremely good all night,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “It was a huge win for us.”
Game 3 is Monday night in New York.
Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves for New York, but the Rangers mustered little offense while playing their fourth game in six days. Not that coach Alain Vigneault wanted to blame fatigue for a listless performance.
“Did my goaltender look tired? He was on top of his game,” Vigneault said. “If he’s not tired, nobody else should be.”
The Rangers have lost eight straight Game 2s and have dropped 13 consecutive games when leading in a series.
They had their chances to jump ahead early, only to be let down again by an anemic power play.
Three times in the first 10 minutes a Penguins player skated to the penalty box, and three times the Rangers spent two minutes milling about as though they were killing time before getting back to even strength. The Rangers finished 0 for 4 with the man advantage and haven’t scored the last 29 times they’ve had an extra skater on the ice.
“It could have given us some momentum, and we didn’t finish,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got to find the right trigger points here to make it work. We’ll spend the night trying to figure it out.”
Only Lundqvist seemed interested in sending the Rangers back to New York with a commanding 2-0 lead. He was typically brilliant, particularly when Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby was on the ice.
The NHL’s leading scorer and Hart Trophy finalist is in the midst of a lengthy postseason scoring funk. He began the night without a goal in 12 straight playoff games, a span that included 327 shifts and 275 minutes of ice time.
Bylsma insisted early Sunday that he anticipated seeing Crosby at his “best” with the season possibly at stake. Though Crosby failed to score, it was the only thing he didn’t do. For the first time in weeks, he looked like himself.
Relentless at both ends of the ice, the jump in his game that was missing at times during a listless performance in Game 1 returned.
“To see Sid play like that tonight was really inspiring for everybody in our dressing room,” Letang said. “He was really dangerous.”
Crosby finished with a game-high six shots. During one stretch at the end of the first period he produced a pair of scoring opportunities, including a nifty deke around two defenders, before he ripped a wrist shot that just missed the net.
Each time Crosby appeared poised to end the drought, Lundqvist found a way to get a piece of the puck. He made a sprawling leg save on a tip-in attempt by Crosby, though Lundqvist wasn’t so fortunate the next time the Penguins came at him.
Chris Kunitz began a breakout by feeding Malkin at the New York blue line. Malkin slipped the puck over to Letang, who flipped it toward the net. Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi dived headfirst to block the attempted pass to Kunitz, but the puck deflected off Girardi’s stick and past a surprised Lundqvist to give Pittsburgh the lead.
“They just spent a lot of time in our own end,” Lundqvist said. “That was the biggest difference.”
Fleury had little problem letting the one-goal advantage stand up. The Rangers rarely challenged him over the final 30 minutes, and Jokinen and Malkin removed any remaining drama by scoring twice in the last 5 minutes.
Jokinen banged in a rebound off a shot by James Neal for his fourth goal of the playoffs with 3:30 remaining. Malkin beat two Rangers to tap in an empty-net goal with 54 seconds left as the Penguins exhaled.
“Now the series is tied 1-1, and two games in their building,” Jokinen said. “I’m sure they’re going to be better. We need to keep playing the way we’re playing.”
NOTES: Lundqvist made his 75th career playoff appearance. He will tie Mike Richter’s club record for games played if he starts, as expected, on Monday night. ... Pittsburgh D Brooks Orpik missed his fourth straight game with an undisclosed injury. ... The Penguins are 2-6 in their last eight Game 2s.
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