Rangers completely overwhelm Penguins in playoff-like atmosphere


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If the Rangers draw the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, they’ll want to use their game Friday night at the Garden as a blueprint for victory.

The Rangers, who scored three first-period goals, were a force from puck drop and never relented, suffocating the Penguins in all three zones for a convincing 5-1 win.

There are two more regular-season meetings between the clubs on the horizon — and potentially an entire series in the postseason. Only one point now separates the second-place Penguins and the third-place Rangers, who have been battling it out for weeks, in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Rangers have two more wins and a game in hand.

This one was just as nasty as the first matchup on Feb. 26, when the Rangers lost 1-0 at Pittsburgh. But the Penguins were not nearly as sharp this time around, allowing the Rangers to pick them apart early and often. The Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin, who was sidelined with a non-COVID illness, though the star center probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin had what felt like one of his lightest workloads of the season, turning aside 20 of the 21 shots he faced to improve the Rangers to 41-19-5.

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It took just over four minutes for the Rangers to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Skating with purpose and authority, the Rangers made the Penguins look as if they were in slow motion.

Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil finessed a two-on-one rush, which resulted in the 2020 first-overall pick extending his point streak to a career-high five games with a goal at 2:07 of the first. Just under two minutes later, Chris Kreider scored on a breakaway off the bench to double the Rangers’ advantage.

The new-look top line of Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano kept up the pressure. Zibanejad, who had three assists, fed Vatrano on the doorstep at 4:16, prompting Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan to use his timeout to try and calm his team down.

Pittsburgh nearly got on the board in the first when a Jacob Trouba turnover allowed the Penguins’ Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues to push the puck over the goal line. The referees, however, waived it off immediately. The play eventually went under review, but it was determined that Shesterkin’s pads had been pushed and the no-goal call on the ice was upheld.

The Rangers managed to preserve the comfortable lead despite having to kill off Dryden Hunt’s double-minor high sticking penalty.

When Shesterkin was called for delay of game for a rare mishandling of the puck, the Rangers fed off the energy from their penalty kill that was spearheaded by deadline-acquisition Tyler Motte. In looking to make up for the penalty, Shesterkin worked to clear the puck and spring his teammates for breakaways.

Kreider then scored his third shorthanded goal of the season for the 4-0 lead at 6:37 of the second. That led to Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry getting yanked for just the second time this season.

Casey DeSmith came in relief for Jarry, but the backup collided with the Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin and headed to the locker room after logging 4:19. As a result, Jarry was forced to return.

To wrap up the scoring, Andrew Copp recorded his first goal as a Ranger at 17:47.

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