Surging Pens close in on top spot
NEW YORK — The surging Pittsburgh Penguins are closing in on the top spot in their division.
Teddy Blueger scored twice, Matt Murray made 33 saves and the Penguins rallied from an early two-goal deficit for a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday night.
“I thought we didn’t have a great start,” Blueger said. “We know we have the firepower in here to get back in those kinds of games. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We kept pushing each other.”
Blueger centered the second line, with Evengi Malkin out of the lineup due to an upper-body injury.
“He’s playing an important role for us right now, especially with Geno out of the lineup, and he’s done a great job,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Sullivan said after the game that Malkin, who has been out since leaving a game against St. Louis on March 16, did not skate Monday but “skated a couple of days prior to that.”
Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad and Matt Cullen also scored for Pittsburgh. Phil Kessel and Marcus Pettersson each added two assists.
“One of those (games) where everyone seemed to contribute,” Bjugstad said.
Murray improved to 6-0-0 against the Rangers in the regular season and 5-0-0 at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh, which finished a 3-0-1 road trip, pulled into a tie with the New York Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 95 points. Both teams trail Washington by one point for first.
“We’re all well aware of the standings and where we’re at,” Sullivan said.
Brendan Lemieux and Vinni Lettieri scored for the Rangers. Alexandar Georgiev, coming off a 44-save effort in a 2-1 overtime win Saturday night at Toronto, stopped 31 shots.
“We weren’t able to sustain all the good things we did in the first period,” coach David Quinn said.
“And for them to tie it so quickly seemed to deflate us. We never got back on track.”
Trailing 2-1, the Penguins roared back with three goals in the second.
They tied the game 61 seconds into the period on the power play. Sidney Crosby had the puck behind the Rangers net and sent a pass to Schultz, who one-timed it past Georgiev for his second of the season.
“I just saw Sid go behind the net,” Schultz said. “Obviously, he’s got great vision. Tried to find a lane. He made a great pass. Fortunate enough for it to go in.”
Cullen gave the Penguins their first lead when he sent a high shot past Georgiev’s left shoulder at 7:17.
Later in the period, with the Penguins killing a penalty, Blueger skated in on a break and sent a pass to Bryan Rust. The puck deflected behind the net and Rust sent a pass to Blueger, who scored on a backhand for his fifth of the season at 13:12 to make it 4-2.
“I saw Rusty going backdoor and so I tried to throw it to him,” Blueger said. “Didn’t connect that clean. I just instinctively stayed there. I tried to get it on net as quick as possible.”
Blueger added his second of the game at 7:38 of the third. Jared McCann sent a shot at the net and Blueger got enough of the rebound to put it in for his sixth of the season. The goal withstood a replay challenge for offside.
The Rangers, who will miss the playoffs and are playing out the string, got off to a fast start in the opening period.
Mika Zibanejad skated into the zone and sent a pass to Pavel Buchnevich at the left faceoff circle. Buchnevich quickly sent a cross-ice pass to Lemieux, who wristed it past Murray for his 12th of the season at 8:25. The goal was Lemieux’s third with New York since being acquired at the trade deadline from Winnipeg.
The Rangers made it 2-0 on the power play when Lettieri fired a one-timer from the left faceoff circle past Murray at 15:15 for his first goal of the season.
“In the first period, we were playing our game,” Georgiev said. “When we started losing, we started playing offensive hockey and the game opened up. Tonight they managed to shoot pucks really well.”
Just 26 seconds later, Bjugstad got the Penguins on the board when he scored his 12th of the season. He got a loose puck and squeezed it through Georgiev’s pads to make it 2-1.
“It was laying there and I just whacked at it. Just get the puck to the net and stuff happens every once in a while,” Bjugstad said.
Notes: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang missed the game with an upper-body injury. His status is day to day. Zach Trotman replaced him in the lineup. … Rangers forward Jesper Fast will miss the rest of the season because of an injury. D Marc Staal was out with a lower-body injury and forward Chris Kreider is day to day after missing Saturday’s win at Toronto.
Penguins: Host the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
Rangers: At the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.