Miller leads Ranger rally
By DAN SCIFO
PITTSBURGH — Former East Palestine resident J.T. Miller scored short-handed to cap a second-period rally, helping the New York Rangers overcome an early two-goal deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Monday night.
The teams play again Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to complete a pivotal, early season home-and-home between Metropolitan Division contenders. The Penguins have lost four of six and trail the first-place Rangers by four points.
Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel scored twice in the first period of his first NHL game, but Rick Nash and Michael Grabner made it 2-2 before Miller, a Pittsburgh native, got his eighth of the season.
Kevin Hayes added his ninth goal midway through the third, and Derek Stepan also scored into an empty net.
Antti Raanta, starting the second game of a back-to-back for New York, rebounded after the first period and made 29 saves for his fifth win in six games.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots for Pittsburgh. It was the first time he started two straight games since Matt Murray returned earlier in the month from a broken hand.
Miller scored in the final minute of the second period to put New York ahead. A centering pass deflected off Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin before hitting Miller and going past Fleury.
The Rangers next goal was also a lucky one, as Ryan McDonagh’s centering pass hit off Hayes’ skate and went behind Fleury.
Miller’s goal came after Nash lifted in a loose puck about five minutes into the second period and Grabner tied for the NHL lead with his 12th goal with 5:37 left. McDonagh also assisted on Grabner’s goal, sending a pass through the crease that Grabner lifted in on the backhand.
Guentzel made his debut against the same team that drafted his father Mike in the seventh round in 1981. The younger Guentzel scored on the first shot of his first shift, a similar feat accomplished by Penguins’ co-owner Mario Lemieux 32 years earlier. Guentzel’s wrist shot from below the left faceoff dot sneaked between Raanta’s pads 1:02 into the game. It was the fastest goal by a Penguins’ player making his NHL debut.
His second goal came exactly 12 minutes later. Malkin tipped Phil Kessel’s initial shot, and Guentzel put the rebound behind Raanta from the slot.
Guentzel, the Penguins’ 2013 third-round pick, was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier in the day. He had seven goals and 17 points in 16 AHL games, leading the team and ranking among the league leaders.
This was the first meeting between the division rivals since the Penguins eliminated the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs last spring. It marked the third straight year the teams met in the postseason — the Rangers won the first two meetings before losing to the Stanley Cup champions last season.
NOTES: Guentzel is the fifth player in team history to score his first NHL goal on his first shift. He is the third Nebraska-born player in NHL history to score a goal. … Malkin has points in seven straight home games. … Rangers F Mika Zibanejad, injured a day earlier against Florida, is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a broken leg. … Penguins F Chris Kunitz, who has 11 points in 18 games, is considered week-to-week with a lower-body injury. … Patric Hornqvist, who missed the last three games with a concussion, skated on his own before the Penguins’ morning skate. … Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich will miss two to three weeks with a back injury.
The teams complete their home-and-home at MSG on Wednesday night.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.