When we last saw Chris Conner at the NHL level he was at the end of the bench on November 12th against the Devils after a sloppy play led to a goal against, a benching and then a trip back to the minors the next day. What a difference two and a half months makes. Tonight he jumped back up to the NHL and filled injured Bill Guerin's first line spot. And filled it well, on Conner's first shift he took a pass from Sidney Crosby, took advantage of the great center drive by Pascal Dupuis and wristed a shot by Henrik Lundqvist.
The New York Rangers, mired in a 2+ game score-less streak finally came out of it halfway through the game when Chris Higgins played a puck around Mark Eaton, got it over to Artem Anisimov who danced around Kris Letang and then took a nice shot. The game would be tied 1-1 after two periods, despite the general feeling that Pittsburgh played the best game for the first 40 minutes.
Just 20 seconds into the 3rd period, the Pens best penalty killer Jordan Staal took a 4 minute double minor for high-sticking. Pittsburgh did well to kill it almost all the way off before Matt Cooke took an ill-advised roughing penalty. Yet again the Pens would do some great work to kill it off and keep themselves in the game. With all that, they should seemingly have some momentum.
But Anisimov threw a puck at Marc-Andre Fleury's feet, which got pinned on the post/skates. The ref wisely didn't blow the whistle and as Fleury struggled to discover exactly where the puck was (he knew it had to be loose since there was no whistle), MAF ended up knocked what was a puck on the line into the net. Tough break.
This happened almost halfway through the 3rd and re-energized the crowd. Instead of shrinking away, the Pens rallied back strongly (as defending champs do). They drew a penalty and Evgeni Malkin struck on a one-timed slap shot from a pass by Sergei Gonchar. Then the next shift Crosby bulled into the zone and threw a high shot at Lundqvist. "The King" couldn't control it, and couldn't square up as quickly as Conner could get to it. 3-2 Pens. Dupuis would cap the scoring with an empty netter.
- The one little bobble aside, Fleury was sharp as a tack in his return from the broken finger. He showed no hesitation in using his glove and was confident in how he went about his game. MAF definitely looked as good as new.
- The usual D pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik had a night, take a look at their combined stats: 47:08 in ice-time (7:36 of this short-handed), 1 shot on goal, 9 hits (eight from Orpik), 9 blocked shots (seven of them Gonchar's), 1 takeaway, 2 assists (both Sarge's) and +4.
- Mike Rupp had a pretty good hits/minute ratio: 6 credited hits on just 8:17 of playing time.
- Eric Godard only took one shift for :43 seconds of time, which sadly isn't out of the ordinary for him. But, unfortunately, it was an injury when Godard's leg appeared to awkardly buckle underneath of him.
- Crosby won 67% of his 27 faceoffs; but the rest of the team struggled, winning just 26% altogether (8 out of 31). Ouch.
- Anisimov and Marian Gaborik combined for 11 for the Rangers' 30 shots on goal. For whatever reason, Gaborik didn't seem as dangerous as he has in previous matchups, despite all of his shots on goal.
This game will be remembered for the way the Penguins roared back to life after surrendering the weird go ahead goal. Conner got some redemption, Fleury came back and generally looked good and the big boys of Crosby and Malkin came through on the scoreboard as they usually do.
Five wins in the last seven games for Pittsburgh, who finish off their "Dads Trip" a perfect 2-0. Up next is something of a rare breather in this condensed schedule, the Pens only play one game in the next five days, but that game will be Thursday against the suddenly streaking Ottawa Senators, who're getting healthier all the time and getting some great goaltending from Brian Elliott.