By Simmi Buttar
March 27, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cullen (7), second from left, scores past New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, left, during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing their best hockey of the season with the playoffs just a couple of weeks away.
Crosby scored on a deflection at 4:30 of overtime and the surging Penguins beat the New York Rangers 3-2 Sunday night in a potential first-round preview.
''It was a good play by Tanger (Kris Letang) to throw it into an area where I could tip it,'' said Crosby, who has 32 goals.
The star center has at least one point in 14 of his past 15 games (seven goals, 15 assists) and is third in the NHL with 78 points.
Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who have won eight of nine. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves.
''I think that we worked hard for it,'' Crosby said. ''It was a pretty even hockey game. That's what we're playing for, to get these two points, especially after a pretty emotional game yesterday, knowing what that meant.
''To come back and have a good effort and find a way to get two points in a back-to-back against a good team is nice.''
Pittsburgh, third in the Metropolitan Division, moved within three points of the second-place Rangers and two ahead of the idle Islanders. The Penguins, who have beaten New York three times in March, have a game in hand on the Rangers.
''It's big for the standings,'' Fleury said. ''It's so close with a division game. You definitely need those points. They've had our number in the playoffs the past few seasons.''
Eric Staal scored twice for New York, which had won three straight. Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast assisted on both of Staal's goals. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 29 shots.
''It would have been nice to have those (goals) to help with a win,'' Staal said. ''(We) could have had a few more. But good things as a line and obviously we have to keep building on that.''
Derick Brassard was called for high-sticking with 1.4 seconds left in regulation to give Pittsburgh a power play in the extra period. But the Rangers killed it off before Letang's wrist shot from the point ricocheted in off Crosby in front.
''The last three overtimes, that's the way we've been beat,'' Lundqvist said. ''It's tough to defend sometimes when they throw it around top and you get a deflection like that, but overall it was a good hockey game.
''It's just disappointing to lose, especially killing off their power play in overtime. I don't know what to say, it was a tough bounce there.''
Staal entered with one goal in 13 games with the Rangers since joining the team at the trade deadline in a deal with Carolina. It was his second multigoal game of the season.
The Rangers took advantage of a Penguins turnover to take a 2-1 lead early in the second period. Staal took a pass from Fast and sent a loose puck past Fleury at the right faceoff circle at 2:07.
The Penguins tied it again when Carl Hagelin used his speed to chase down a loose puck and put a shot on Lundqvist. Kessel backhanded in the rebound for his 23rd goal of the season at 8:36.
Kessel, who had a goal and four assists in Saturday's win over Detroit, sent a shot off the crossbar a couple of minutes later.
The Rangers opened the scoring in the first period.
Hayes took the puck up the left side and sent a pass in front to Staal, who fended off defenseman Trevor Daley and deflected the puck past Fleury at 4:19.
The Penguins tied it late in the period.
Derrick Pouliot took a pass from Daley at the left faceoff circle and shot from the point. Cullen tipped the rebound past Lundqvist at 15:49. It was Cullen's 13th goal of the season.
''I thought we played hard,'' Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ''I thought it was a fairly even game. We had to fight for every inch of ice out there. Those types of games, where you have to fight to get your offense, you don't get any freebies. I thought our guys played really hard and stayed with it.''
NOTES: Alain Vigneault has 141 regular-season wins as Rangers coach. He is one away from passing Roger Neilson for sixth place on the franchise list. ... Nine different Rangers have at least one goal over the past four games (Derick Brassard, Tanner Glass, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Viktor Stalberg, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello). ... Chris Kunitz, who left Saturday's win after taking a hit from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, was in the starting lineup for the Penguins. ... G Jeff Zatkoff, defensemen Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin and center Oskar Sundqvist were scratched for the Penguins. C Oscar Lindberg and D Dylan McIlrath (knee injury) were scratched for the Rangers.