After Phil Kessel opened the scoring with a power play goal in the second period, the Rangers responded with three unanswered goals. For a brief five-minute section of the game, the Penguins lost their composure and that was all that the Rangers would need to take an insurmountable advantage.
“It was four or five shifts where they got some momentum and buried some chances,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Both teams are going to make mistakes. It’s whoever capitalizes on those mistakes [who is going to win] and they did the better job of that tonight.”
Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle measured a puck that snuck past the front of goaltender Jeff Zatkoff’s goal crease and slapped it into the back of the net. Eighteen seconds later, forward Derick Brassard burned past Olli Maatta and beat Zatkoff on his blocker side to. Four minutes later, winger Mats Zuccarello added another goal and sent the Rangers into the third period with a 3-1 lead.
The second period had been the Penguins’ domains throughout the regular season. Pittsburgh had a better goal differential in the second period than any team in hockey. Tonight, however, it was the Rangers who took advantage of an uncharacteristic second-period lull.
“We need to find ways to put things behind us,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “When you’re playing in the playoffs, you can’t get to low when something bad happens. We spiraled a little bit out of control for five or six minutes and that was the difference in the game.”
For the majority of the game, the Penguins played the Rangers pretty evenly. But New York was able to push the Penguins around a bit and force costly Penguins turnovers. The Rangers outhit the Penguins 57 to 25 and force eight Penguins turnovers while only turning the puck over once themselves.
“If we want to win consistently, we’ve got to limit those turnovers, especially in certain areas of the ice,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “There were a few of them tonight where we turned the puck over in high-risk areas and those are tough plays to defend.”
Following his scintillating playoff debut, goaltender Jeff Zatkoff was not quite as successful in game two. The Penguins left him hanging several times, and Zatkoff made several saves to prevent the game from getting out of control, but he surrendered four goals on 28 shots and was outplayed by the opposing goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.
“I thought Lundqvist played great and he just made more saves than me tonight,” Zatkoff said. “That’s the difference.”
In the second period, Lundqvist stoned Bryan Rust on a breakaway. The Rangers goaltender also made a series of saves in the third period that prevented the Penguins from cutting the lead to one. Lundqvist, who was a game-time decision due to an eye injury that he suffered in Game One, stopped 29 of 31 Penguins shots on net.
Soon after Chris Kreider’s third-period goal gave the Rangers a 4-1 lead, Kessel scored a second powerplay goal to cut New York’s lead in half. But the Penguins were unable to draw any closer to a Rangers team that did not allow Pittsburgh to get into a groove offensively.
The Rangers used physical, responsible defense to stifle the Penguins rush and force them into an East-West style of hockey game negated Pittsburgh’s greatest weapon: Their speed.
“Our best asset is probably our forecheck,” Lovejoy said. “We have so much speed to go get pucks and make life hard on other defenseman and we haven’t done quite enough of that.”
Forward Evgeni Malkin returned to the starting lineup after missing five weeks due to an upper body injury. Malkin was held off of the scoreboard, but logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time as he tried to shake off any rust that he acquired during the layoff.
“It’s tough to simulate game intensity in a practice environment,” Sullivan said. “For the most part, he was making plays out there.”
The Penguins will now head to Madison Square Garden in New York City with the series tied 1-1, where Pittsburgh will look to reestablish their game. Puck drops for Game Three on Tuesday night at 7:00.