Written By: Mike Ulatoski
Olli Jokinen’s first game-winner with the New York Rangers gave them a 3-2 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
Playing in his fifth game with New York since being acquired in a four-player trade from Calgary, Jokinen took a pass from Michal Rozsival, skated down the right wing and fired a wrist shot through defenseman Kris Letang’s legs and over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s stick-side shoulder. It was Jokinen’s second goal with the Rangers and 13th overall this season.
“I think he’s been playing okay for us but … okay isn’t good enough because we’re not winning,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, whose team had lost eight of 10 coming in. “So it’s a big play by him… Hopefully it will give him some confidence. You always want to be accepted when you come to a new group, and when you score an overtime game winner that’s a big avenue for him as far as joining in with the team.”
New York’s victory marks the first time the Rangers have won in Pittsburgh in their last eight trips, and their first win against the Penguins in their last eight meetings overall. With the win the Rangers moved to within two points of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby scored twice to achieve a career-high 41 goals. He trails Washington’s Alex Ovechkin by a goal for the NHL lead. It is Crosby’s first 40-goal season in the NHL, and I bet he’ll get to 50 by the end of the season.
With the OT loss, Pittsburgh gained a point but fell two points behind first-place New Jersey, who won Friday night, in the Atlantic Division.
New York played most of the game with only 16 skaters after defenseman Michael Del Zotto sustained “a significant laceration” in a collision with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin and had the side of his abdomen land on Malkin’s skate.
Rangers star Marian Gaborik dressed and had 4:02 of ice time over six shifts during the first period after being a game-time decision. He missed a home game Wednesday night against Nashville after cutting his right thigh during a collision with goalie Henrik Lundqvist in practice a day before.
Brandon Dubinsky tied it 1:28 into the second period (I called that) when he one-timed a blind backhand pass from Chris Drury. Drury was behind the net and found Dubinsky in the left slot. The goal was Dubinsky’s 13th of the season, just his second since January 1. It also was Drury’s first assist since January 17.
Vaclav Prospal gave New York the lead 8:16 later with his 13th goal of the season, and fourth in his past four games.
Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the first 17 shots he faced in relief of backup Brent Johnson, who left the game with 3:55 to play in the second period due to a lower-body injury.
The stage was set for yet another New York Ranger meltdown against the Penguins. They had a lead going into the third, they blew the lead to a Sidney Crosby goal, and it seemed like they were going to add another tally to the loss column. But Olli Jokinen (who said he was going to have a great game) skated down the ice, rifled a shot and lit the lamp in overtime.
While this is a big win, it’s the first step of a long journey if the Rangers expect to make the playoffs. The Blueshirts next game is this Sunday against Tampa Bay, the last game before their Olympic break begins.
The Rangers lost another player to a cut from a skate on Friday. Rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto collided with Penguins center Evgeni Malkin near the boards and fell on Malkin’s skate with the side of his abdomen. He sustained what team officials termed “a significant laceration” and will also not return.
“The playoffs have already started for us; we have to start winning,” Lundqvist said. “A big part of the game is to be focused. Whatever happens during the game, you can’t let that affect us — if it’s a goal or a guy can’t play for us, all the guys have to step up even more. We did that tonight.”