After enjoying nearly a week off, the Pittsburgh Penguins dropped their first game of the New Year on Friday night, falling 3-1 to the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.
Ben Lovejoy opened the scoring to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. Lovejoy found a huge opening in the center of the ice as the Rangers went to the puck on the boards, which Craig Adams controlled and centered to Lovejoy. The Pittsburgh defenseman went with a low wrister to beat the Rangers' stud goalie Henrik Lundqvist. But that would be all Lundqvist would allow Friday, as he entered a zone and shut down numerous Pens' chances over the remaining 50-plus minutes of the game.
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The Rangers would score three unanswered goals for the 3-1 win. After the Pens dominated play for much of the first, Brad Richards evened it up on an open net rebound after a bad angle shot from Marc-Andre Fleury's right. Brandon Dubinsky gave New York the lead on a shorthanded breakaway chance, with Ryan Callahan feeding him on a cross for the quick strike.
In the third, New York made it a two goal lead just over a minute into the period as Derek Stepan scored his 9th goal of the season on an unassisted play. The chance was handed to him when Fleury came out to play the puck but fanned on it with Marian Gaborik and Stepan rapidly approaching. Gaborik got to it first, hitting it off the post but Stepan was there to clean up the rebound and put it in the back of the empty net.
It appeared the Pens cut the lead in half later in the third, as James Neal put one past Lundqvist. But it was immediately ruled no goal on the ice, as a hard-charging Chris Kunitz was determined to have impeded the Rangers' goalie and his ability to play the puck. Kunitz did run into him as the frantic break developed.
Later in the third, injury was added to insult as Jordan Staal had to be helped off the ice after a direct knee-to-knee hit with Mike Rupp. It was supposed to be a welcome-back night for Rupp, but the Rangers' winger skated and collided directly into Staal's knee as he turned to come to the middle of the ice. It was an ugly looking injury to his left leg.
With or without Staal, the Pens have little time to lick their wounds as the New Jersey Devils come to town Saturday night.
For more news, analysis, and discussion on the Pens, visit SB Nation's Penguins blog, Pensburgh. For the perspective from the other side, visit Blueshirt Banter, SB Nation's New York Rangers blog.