PITTSBURGH — Kasperi Kapanen got his fourth goal in his last five games and the surging Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers 4-2 on Tuesday night.
Teddy Blueger and Jake Guentzel also scored for the Penguins, who went 4-1 on their homestand to gain ground in the hyper-competitive East Division. Sidney Crosby's empty-net goal with 32 seconds to go helped Pittsburgh escape.
Tristan Jarry finished with 33 saves — including a couple of scrambling stops on his belly in the final minutes to preserve a one-goal lead. He improved to 8-3 in his last 11 starts.
New York defenceman Jack Johnson — making his first appearance in Pittsburgh since the Penguins released him during the off-season — scored his first goal in more than a year. Ryan Strome picked up his ninth with a power-play score early in the third period. Keith Kinkaid made 23 stops while withstanding an early barrage but eventually wore down as the Rangers dropped their second straight.
The East Division is looking very much like a five-team race for four playoff spots as the truncated 56-game season nears its midway point. The Penguins hung in there during the opening month despite a slew of injuries to their defencemen and a slow start by Jarry, who became their No. 1 goalie when two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray was traded in the off-season .
The Penguins dominated the first period. Kinkaid held off the barrage and Johnson gave the Rangers the lead 9:16 in when his innocent flip from the point found its way through traffic — perhaps helped by a deflection off the skate of Pittsburgh defenceman John Marino — and by Jarry. The goal was Johnson's first since Jan. 19, 2020, when he was in the middle of his second season with Pittsburgh.
The Penguins bought out the final three years of Johnson's contract in early October in an attempt to make their blue line younger and faster. Guentzel's goal provided a snapshot of why Pittsburgh wanted to move on.
Crosby created a turnover in the New York zone and fed a cross-ice pass to a streaking Guentzel. Johnson was the closest Ranger but rather than charge Guentzel or attempt a poke check he hesitated and Guentzel ripped a shot over Kinkaid's glove to tie it with 1:06 remaining in the first.
Blueger put Pittsburgh in front 2:40 into the second period with his second short-handed goal of the season when he and penalty-killing linemate Brandon Tanev took advantage of some shaky play by the Rangers. Brian Dumoulin fed a stretch pass to Tanev, who basically set a pick for Blueger. He skated across the New York crease and slid a backhand by Kinkaid.
Kapanen — who has bounced up and down the lineup but seems to have found a home on the second line with Evgeni Malkin — ended some extended pressure with his seventh of the season with just 19 seconds to go in the second.
Strome pulled the Rangers within a goal 3:18 into the third when his pass from the left circle toward the front of the net deflected off a Penguins player and got by Jarry.
New York flirted with tying it late. Only a series of quality stops by Jarry kept the Rangers at bay before Crosby's empty-netter from centre ice let the Penguins exhale.
Rangers: Continue their six-game road trip Thursday in Boston.
Penguins: Face the Sabres for the first time this season when they visit Buffalo for a two-game set starting Thursday.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press