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On Saturday in Pittsburgh, the Rangers turned on the jets with a monster second period and beat the Penguins, 4–2. J.T. Miller had three assists, Derick Brassard had a goal and two helpers, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 29 shots. Phil Kessel scored two goals for the Penguins while goalie Jeff Zatkoff was solid with 24 saves.
The Rangers leveled the series at a game apiece. Game 3 will be on Tuesday night in New York.
Here are three thoughts on Saturday’s game:
The King is back
Having swelling in your eye is never good—now try stopping a one-by-three-inch puck coming at you at 100 miles per hour. That was Lundqvist’s task, and he handled it splendidly. He made a beautiful second-period stop on a breakaway by Bryan Rust after the Rangers had just gone up 2–1 and had all the momentum. A number of his other saves were fantastic, including a point-blank stop on Patric Hornqvist with under a minute left in the game. The two goals he let up were the result of perfect passing. Rangers fans, understandably, were terrified at the thought of losing Lundqvist long-term, or of him playing at diminished capability. Saturday afternoon proved he’s back to being the King.
When the World Cup of Hockey rosters were announced in March, many were shocked at the inclusion of J.T. Miller on the “Young Guns” team. That’s probably because he’s not a big name. But the 23-year-old winger deserves to be there, and his second period in this game is a perfect example of why. His cross-ice pass to Mats Zuccarello for the Rangers’ third goal was a beauty, as was his equally impressive dish to Keith Yandle for the first goal. In fact, Miller tied a Rangers postseason record with three assists in one period. He joins some pretty good company: Jaromir Jagr, Brian Leetch and Jean Ratelle. Miller, who grew up about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, has had a breakout season, setting career highs with 22 goals, 21 assists and 43 points. The line of Miller, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash is oozing with chemistry, and their reunion for Game 2 was a smart move by coach Alain Vigneault. Miller is a burgeoning first-line star, and his ascension on this day is a great sign for the Rangers.
Like he never left
Before Saturday, Evgeni Malkin last played on March 11. Out with an “upper-body” injury, he had been day-to-day entering these playoffs. In Saturday’s game, Malkin looked like his old self. He controlled the puck on the power play and made swift moves entering the zone on the rush. Malkin, who had an assist, was matched perfectly with pesky forward Conor Sheary and Rust. And of course, the “super” line of Malkin, Crosby and Hornqvist is really dangerous. Malkin’s return gives the Pens three legitimate lines: the Crosby line, the Malkin line and the Bonino line. Depth is critical in the playoffs and having Malkin back gives the Pens plenty.