Brad Richards scored a goal and added two assists, and Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan each added a goal and a helper, as the New York Rangers built a 4-1 lead and withstood a late rally in defeating division-rival Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh was missing two of their best defenseman with injuries sustained Saturday night in Montreal: Kris Letang (broken nose) and Zbynek Michalek (undisclosed). Alexandre Picard and Robert Bortuzzo were recalled from the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins as their replacements.
It was a chippy affair from the opening faceoff, as Sean Avery and Tyler Kennedy got into a scrap just 16 seconds into the contest. The two served their two-minute roughing minors, then proceeded to fight each other, and it would set the tone for the rest of the evening.
The visitors would get on the board first, after a skirmish involving Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale and the Rangers' Steve Eminger and Henrik Lundqvist in the New York crease yielded a Penguins' power play. Sidney Crosby carried the puck along the right wing boards, then whipped a backhanded pass to James Neal in the slot. Neal snapped a wrist shot past Lundqvist for his 14th goal of the season at the 17:56 mark of the opening period to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers would make the difference in the game by scoring four times in a stretch of 10:25 in the second period.
With Pascal Dupuis in the penalty box, Gaborik carried the puck along the left wing side and as he cut toward the net, slid a perfect pass between the legs of Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen and onto the stick of Callahan, who sent a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury and into the open side of the net. Callahan's ninth of the season knotted the game at 1-1 at 8:01 of the second period.
The powerplay goal snapped a Penguins' streak of 18 consecutive penalty kills.
The Rangers took a 2-1 lead a little more than six minutes later, as Carl Hagelin carried the puck through the slot with speed. As he skated towards the left circle, he dropped a pass for John Mitchell, who rifled a wrister to the far side and over the glove of Fleury for his first of the season.
New York would add to their lead a minute and a half later. Ruslan Fedotenko held the puck at the right point and sent Richards up the middle, one-on-one with Brooks Orpik. Richards used Orpik as a screen and beat Fleury over the glove hand to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
After Neal took a tripping minor to give the Rangers their second man advantage of the night, Richards found Michael Del Zotto at the left faceoff circle. The New York defenseman sent a pass across the front of the Penguins' goal to Gaborik, who shot the puck towards the net. Fleury made the initial save, but the puck bounced off Orpik's shin pad and past the Pittsburgh goalie to make it a 4-1 Rangers' advantage. It was Gaborik's 11th goal of the season.
The Pens had killed off 18 straight opposition power plays coming into the contest, and had now allowed two consecutive man advantage goals.
It appeared that the Penguins had pulled to within 4-2 when Matt Cooke batted a puck with a stick above the crossbar that went on goal. Lundqvist made the initial stop, but the puck then rebounded off the arm of New York defender Michael Sauer and banked into the net.
The play was ruled no goal on the ice and reviewed in the war room in Toronto, and the on-ice decision was confirmed. While the goal was disallowed, Travis Hughes of SB Nation found otherwise in the NHL rule book.
Pittsburgh was able to get to within two when Evgeni Malkin batted in the rebound of a Neal shot for his ninth of the year with just 6.1 seconds remaining in the middle stanza. The Penguins were heading into the third period with some tremendous momentum.
That momentum continued early in the final frame, as Pittsburgh made it a one-goal game at 3:39 when Dupuis was able to send a backhander past Lundqvist on a delayed New York penalty.
But the Penguins would play some undisciplined hockey down the stretch as they attempted to tie the contest.
The Rangers had several opportunities to put the game out of reach late in the third period when they had two five-on-three power plays. But the Pittsburgh penalty killers did an excellent job, not allowing a single New York shot during the two-man disadvantages.
Chris Kunitz took a boarding minor with 2:54 left in regulation, effectively killing most of the remaining time that Pittsburgh had to mount an attack.
New York improved to 10-2-0 in their last 12 games to jump into fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 29 points, while upping their home mark to 7-1-1. They trail the NHL-leading Penguins by three points, but have played four fewer games.
Despite the loss, Pittsburgh remained at the top of the conference heap with 32 points, although they are just 4-4-1 in their last nine.