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Penguins get back on track with shutout of Rangers

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Just when the Pittsburgh Penguins were starting to struggle and the New York Rangers were feeling better about themselves, the Penguins came back into Madison Square Garden on Thursday night and reminded both teams about the flip side of their recent fates.

James Neal scored his fifth goal of the season and Simon Despres got his first as the Penguins broke out of a mini-slump to defeat the Rangers at Madison Square Garden by three goals for the second time in as many weeks, 3-0.

Evgeni Malkin added his second goal of the season for Pittsburgh, less than two minutes into the game, and goalie Tomas Voukon made 28 saves in the shutout of the Rangers, who played their first full game without injured captain Ryan Callahan.

"We always get up for playing the Rangers," said Neal, whose power-play goal 26 seconds into the third period gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead. "It's always fun playing at MSG, but at the same time, I think it was our best team game. We were on the right side of the puck at all times and wearing down their 'D.'"

The Penguins (4-3-0) had dropped three of four since their 6-3 win at the Garden on Jan. 20 and New York had gone 3-1 as it prepared for a possible two-week stretch without Callahan. But Pittsburgh scored early in the first period on a goal by Malkin and opened the third with Neal's goal, with assists to Sidney Crosby and Malkin.

Despres later clinched the win by fulfilling what he called a dream to score coming straight out of the penalty box, taking a pass from Pascal Dupuis right after the Rangers wasted the power play caused by Despres' hooking penalty.

While Neal thought the Penguins played their best game, Rangers coach John Tortorella called it his team's worst. New York was called for seven penalties, including too many men on the ice, which led to the Penguins' power-play goal, making it the third straight game the Rangers have given up a goal in that situation. New York was also 0 of 5 on the power play and missed Callahan's energy on both ends of the ice.

"Everything," Tortorella said, when asked what bothered him most. "Slow. It was a collective ... probably the worst we've played all year, collectively."

Pittsburgh struck quickly, scoring less than two minutes into the game. Malkin smacked a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle past Henrik Lundqvist at the 1:24 mark of the first period for a 1-0 lead for the Penguins, with assists going to Dupuis and Kris Letang.

"To get one against a goalie of that caliber, it definitely feels good to know you got one in on him in the first period," Penguins coach Dan Blysma said of Lundqvist, who has allowed seven goals to Pittsburgh and and 11 to everyone else this season.

While Voukon shut down the Rangers' opportunities, Neal poked the puck past Lundqvist to start the third, flipping it in off Crosby's pass to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead just a few moments after the Rangers were called for having too many men on the ice.

"It was a big goal for us," Neal said. "We had great looks and tonight we were working hard to get pucks to the net. (Malkin) made a great play there to Sid, and Sid put an unbelievable pass on my stick and I just had to tip it."

Despres later made it 3-0 at 10:23 of the third period, a moment after the Rangers missed an opportunity at the other end.

Lundqvist, who has started all seven games for the Rangers and was pulled from the Jan. 20 loss in the second period after allowing four goals, had 26 saves.

The Rangers, who made some lineup shifts to account for Callahan's absence, seemed out of sync at times and appeared to miss the spark the energetic leader often provides.

"He spearheaded them and that's all over the ice," Blysma said of Callahan. " ... They still have a lot in their lineup to be nervous about, but it's a noticeable difference."

NOTES: Callahan told reporters at the morning skate he was relieved his injury wasn't worse. An MRI revealed he had a left shoulder subluxation, which is more of a partial or temporary dislocation than a full dislocation. He's expected to be out 10 to 14 days because of the injury, which occurred in the third period of Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, when he got into a tussle with Maxime Talbot. ... Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy made his season debut, with Stu Bickel moving to forward due to Callahan's injury. ... Rangers defenseman Chris Kreider (ankle) missed his fourth straight game, but he was on the ice for practice for the second consecutive day. The timetable for his return is uncertain. ... The Penguins claimed forward Zach Boychuk off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. The 23-year-old 2008 first-round draft pick (14th overall) spent most of the season with AHL affiliate Charlotte and had 16 goals and 32 points in 37 games there. Blysma told reporters at the team's morning skate that Boychuk could play on Malkin's line and could be ready to play Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.
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