PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins keep finding ways to make it hard on themselves. More importantly, they keep finding ways to navigate their way out of trouble, too.
Having a goalie regaining his All-Star form helps.
Tristan Jarry made 33 saves — including a couple of sprawling stops in the final minutes — and the surging Penguins held off the New York Rangers 4-2 on Tuesday night. Jarry improved to 8-3 in his last 11 starts by stoning the Rangers repeatedly in the third period after New York drew within a goal.
Only captain Sidney Crosby’s empty-net goal with 32 seconds left allowed Pittsburgh the chance to exhale at the end of a 4-1 homestand.
“We’ve won a bunch of different ways this year,” said forward Teddy Blueger, whose short-handed goal early in the second gave Pittsburgh the lead for good. “It’s going to be like that when a team comes at us hard and things get scrambly. Jars came up huge for us. … We’ll take it and kind of learn from it and move forward.”
Kasperi Kapanen got his fourth goal in his last five games with 19 seconds to go in the second period at the end of what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called perhaps his team’s best shift of the season. Jake Guentzel also scored for Pittsburgh as the Penguins improved to 5-1 against the Rangers.
Pittsburgh began the homestand reeling a bit following a dismal loss to the New York Islanders. The Penguins responded by winning four of five — the only loss coming in a game in which they blew a three-goal lead — to leapfrog Philadelphia and move into fourth place in the East Division as the midpoint of the truncated 56-game season nears.
“I like the resilience the group has shown,” Sullivan said. “I think our guys have shown an ability to just stay in the moment and continue to compete and I think that’s an important aspect of becoming a good team.”
New York defenseman Jack Johnson — making his first appearance in Pittsburgh since the Penguins released him during the offseason — 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 couldn’t prevent the Rangers from dropping their second straight.
“I thought a much better effort than (a 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday night) but unfortunately, when you’re chasing this team and you lose both, it’s frustrating,” Strome said. “There’s not much we can take away from this one in terms of feeling good.”
Johnson spent two turbulent years in Pittsburgh before the Penguins bought out the final three years of his contract in October. He landed in New York, where’s been in and out of the lineup. The 34-year-old gave the Rangers the lead 9:16 into the first when his innocent flip from the point found its way through traffic — perhaps helped by a deflection off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman 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 parted ways with Johnson to get younger and faster on the blue line. 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 Rangers player 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.
“I just saw him out of the corner of my eye,” Crosby said. “He did all the work there.”
Kapanen began the season on the top line with Crosby, dropped all the way to the fourth line at one point and has been a bit of a nomad at times. He seems to be meshing with Evgeni Malkin. Kapanen has four goals and three assists in his last five games. Malkin’s assist on Kapanen’s wrist shot from the slot at the end of extended pressure gave him points in seven straight home games for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
“That was a great shift, they were moving the puck around real well,” Blueger said. “They’re a pretty high-skilled line. … The second period wasn’t great, so to get that momentum going into the third was huge.”
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.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports