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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Spark not enough for Blueshirts vs. Pens

By Katie Strang

NEW YORK -- Though the New York Rangers showed some spark against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- erasing a two-goal deficit to push the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins to overtime -- the Blueshirts still surrendered their fifth loss in the past six games Wednesday night, falling 4-3 in the shootout at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers whittled a 3-1 deficit in the third period to secure a point but lost as Pittsburgh's Brandon Sutter notched the game winner in the fifth round of the shootout. It was the second straight game that went to the skills competition for the Blueshirts.

Both Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard notched a goal in the final frame, but the injury-plagued Penguins rattled off their fifth straight win and 10th victory in the past 11 games despite a battered blue line comprised with youngsters and AHL call-ups.

It's hard to take a completely rose-tinted view of the comeback, especially when the Penguins are limping along without five of their top six defensemen and 10 regular roster players missing from Wednesday's lineup.

No one sees them searching for the silver lining.

"It was a huge third period for us after what happened. We would've liked the two points," veteran center Brad Richards said. "You can't judge your team on shootout wins and losses sometimes. It's great when you win them, but when you lose them you've got to move past it and realize the good things you did."

Chris Kunitz finished with a goal and an assist, and league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby picked up a pair of helpers as he extended his season-high point streak to eight games -- a span in which he has six goals and seven assists.

The Rangers fumbled on a critical 4-on-3 power-play opportunity in overtime -- when Kunitz plowed into Henrik Lundqvist 14 seconds into play -- but were nonetheless heartened by the life shown in the third period.

The most positive takeaway from the game may have been that Lundqvist appeared to escape unscathed.

The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner, who made his season-high seventh straight start Wednesday, was face down on the ice for extended time after the collision. After several minutes being attended to by head trainer Jim Ramsay, Lundqvist decided to remain in the game.

He didn't feel great afterward but did not indicate that anything was seriously amiss.

"Stiff neck. I expect it to be pretty sore and stiff tomorrow, but I'm just happy that it wasn't worse than that," Lundqvist said.

With Kunitz charging to the net on the first shift of overtime, Lundqvist was caught seemingly unaware as he slid to his left. He was knocked to the ice by Kunitz, igniting a heated scrum behind the Rangers net.

"I didn't see him coming at all," Lundqvist said.

Lundqvist was not immediately sold on staying in his game, he explained, but after several minutes, he returned to the crease, where he stayed for the remainder of the game.

"At first I wasn't sure. It was hard to focus," he said. "Personally, I had to regroup a little bit."

Alain Vigneault seemed please with his club, who played what he said was a "real strong first period, our best period in a long time." He was also happy with the response he saw from his team in the third. The team also mounted a late-game comeback Sunday in their 4-3 shootout win over the Calgary Flames.

"We haven't come back in very many situations this year, and in the third, we came back from a two-goal deficit," Vigneault said.

The Rangers might actually gain some ground in the standings, though, if they could establish leads rather than forcing themselves to fight their way back each game.

Said defenseman Dan Girardi:

"It'd be nice to grab a lead and play with a lead."