The Rangers will rarely find themselves in a better position to defeat the Penguins: In the first game back after the All-Star break, three key Rangers returned to the lineup to play a Pittsburgh team missing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and, thanks to an injury suffered during the morning skate, Mark Letestu. And less than two minutes into the second period, the Rangers had opened up a 2–0 lead. But then came a ten-minute stretch in which Pittsburgh would score three times, enough to give them a 3–2 lead in a game they’d go on to win 4–3 in a shootout.
Brandon Prust, in particular, had an eventful night: He scored the game’s first goal 3:52 into the first period, he fought Deryk Engelland early in the second, and, later, he got punched in the face by the gloved hand of Jordan Staal. That punch caused Prust to drop to the ice, and it drew a match penalty that gave the Rangers five minutes of power-play time during which a Ryan Callahan deflection would tie the score at three — enough to at least salvage a point in a game they were positioned to take two (and to keep Pittsburgh from taking any).
About that Staal punch: It’s not hard to find those who think Prust embellished his fall, not that it changes the fact that Staal, an otherwise clean player, boxed him in the face with his glove on. Then again, the Times’ account — which describes “a rotational blow that instantly buckled Prust’s legs” — makes Prust, who says he did not black out and who played in the third period, sound lucky to have avoided a concussion.
In any case, the Callahan goal would be the last to get behind Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all eleven Rangers shots in the third period (a period in which the Pens registered just three shots) and then stopped two more in overtime and all seven in the shootout. (Even shootout wizard Mats Zuccarello couldn’t slip the puck past the Penguins’ goalie on this night.) And in a battle of goalies just back from the defense-optional All-Star Game, Fleury bested Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed the lone shootout goal off the stick of Dustin Jeffrey in the seventh round.
Think Callahan might replay in his mind his first-period missed opportunity, in which he redirected a centering pass just wide of an open net? On a night in which one more early goal could have meant the difference against a divisional rival, it would be hard to blame him.