PITTSBURGH (CBSNewYork/AP) — Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, but New York failed to score for the third time this season. The Rangers, the best team in the Eastern Conference last spring, are now trailing Pittsburgh by 14 points with six weeks left in the regular season.
Lately, the Rangers don’t have much of a pulse as they’ve dropped their last three games and have only scored two goals in their past three games.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots to break a tie for Pittsburgh’s career shutout record with 23, and the Penguins beat the New York Rangers 3-0 on Saturday for their eighth straight victory.
Beau Bennett, Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy scored, and Dustin Jeffrey added two assists as the Penguins continued to dominate the reeling Rangers. Pittsburgh has won seven consecutive meetings with New York, which lost for the fourth time in its last five games.
Fleury broke a tie with Tom Barrasso for the club shutout record.
Catching the high-flying Penguins might be tough for just about everybody else in the East if Pittsburgh continues to play solidly at both ends of the ice.
Still, it was just 1-0 until early in the third period, when Kennedy drew a tripping penalty from New York’s Anton Stralman then cashed in a minute later when he rocketed a one-timer from the left circle past Lundqvist.
Less than 60 seconds later it was 3-0 as Dupuis scored his 14th of the season and left what little drama remained focused on Fleury’s pursuit of the shutout record. The goalie had come close earlier this season only to see the shutout disappear in the final minute.
Not this time. When Dupuis dumped the puck into the New York zone as the clock expired, the crowd rose to its feet in appreciation while Pittsburgh’s bench raced onto the ice to pay respect to the team’s career leader in goaltending victories.
Bennett gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead barely 90 seconds in, taking a nifty tap pass off the boards from Dustin Jeffrey and blistering a slap shot from right circle over Lundqvist’s shoulder. Only brilliant play from the New York goalie prevented things from getting any worse for the Rangers, who needed more than 10 minutes to get off a shot and spent most of the first 20 minutes in a general malaise.
The only real spark came from defenseman Dan Girardi, who tangled with NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby frequently. At one point both players lost their cool, drawing matching minors for roughing when Girardi knocked off Crosby’s helmet and the Pittsburgh captain responded by sticking his glove into Girardi’s face.
New York recovered in the second, getting into Fleury’s face and generating some momentum. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called timeout to get his team settled, and the Penguins responded by playing the kind of responsible defensive hockey that’s fueled the second half of their winning streak.
Pittsburgh began its run by winning a series of one-goal shootouts, allowing at least three goals in each of the first four games. Things have changed quickly. The Penguins have surrendered just four goals in their last 16 periods thanks in part to shying away from the sometimes reckless play that can Fleury or backup Tomas Vokoun into tight spots.
NOTES: Penguins C Evgeni Malkin did not skate on Saturday and he remains out with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Coach Dan Bylsma says there is no timetable on Malkin’s return. The reigning NHL MVP has missed the last four games and eight of Pittsburgh’s last 11 … Pittsburgh hosts the Boston Bruins on Sunday. The Rangers are off until Monday when they host Carolina. … The Rangers scratched D Stuck Bickel and Matt Gilroy while the Penguins scratched D Deryk Engelland and Roberto Bortuzzo along with Malkin.
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