PITTSBURGH (AP) — Keith Yandle and Derick Brassard scored 18 seconds apart in the second period and Henrik Lundqvist looked just fine dealing with an eye injury and the New York Rangers stopped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Saturday to even their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game.
Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider also scored for the Rangers. J.T. Miller added three assists and New York handed Pittsburgh just its third loss in its past 18 games.
Lundqvist finished with 29 saves and showed no ill effects after getting accidentally slashed in the right eye by a teammate in Game 1, forcing him to leave after the first period.
Game 3 is Tuesday in New York.
Phil Kessel scored his first two playoff goals in three years, but the Penguins’ defense broke down in front of backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who made 24 saves.
Lundqvist returned to the net three days removed from a frightening sequence late in the first period of Game 1 when teammate Marc Staal’s stick somehow found its way through the bars on Lundqvist’s mask and scratched the goaltender’s eye.
Lundqvist called the ensuing 20-30 seconds frightening as he writhed in pain and he was held out of the final two periods as a precaution in an eventual 5-2 loss.
A specialist cleared him on Thursday, he practiced on Friday. And on Saturday, he was the first Ranger onto the ice just as he’d been in New York’s previous 111 playoff games.
The Penguins stuck with Zatkoff, a revelation in the series opener while filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still recovering from a concussion sustained on March 31.
The concerned murmur that greeted Zatkoff’s appearance when he came out of the tunnel for warmup on Wednesday was replaced with a roar on Saturday, though one that barely registered next to the eruption that awaited Malkin.
The star was supposed to be out 6 to 8 weeks after injuring his left arm against Columbus on March 11. He made it back a good week earlier than even the most optimistic projections, returning another dynamic piece to the league’s hottest team.
New York put an abrupt halt to Pittsburgh’s momentum behind its franchise goaltender and an offense that took advantage of some sloppy play at the back end by the Penguins.
The Rangers improved to 6-2 in playoff games following a loss fueled by a sharp performance from Lundqvist and an 18-second span that changed the complexion of the series.
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead at 3:21 into the second period when Kessel finished off a pretty sequence that saw Nick Bonino slip a cross-ice backhand pass while falling to the ice to Trevor Daley, who dropped it for Kessel to bury into the open net.
Zatkoff was sharp early while making consecutive starts for the first time since December, stopping breakaways by Derek Stepan and Rick Nash before things crumbled midway through the second.
Yandle tied it 12:38 into the second when Brassard won a faceoff in the left circle and Miller swooped in to get it before passing it to Yandle in the right circle. Brassard wasted little time giving the Rangers their first lead of the series when Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta couldn’t handle a bouncing puck and Brassard raced by him to beat Zatkoff for Brassard’s seventh goal against the Penguins in their past 10 playoff meetings.
Zuccarello’s doubled New York’s advantage in what looked like a replay of Yandle’s score, sneaking toward the far post behind Pittsburgh’s defense and slamming a pass from Miller into the net 16:52 into the second.
When Daley’s turnover along the goal line early in the third period offered Kreider an easy opportunity that he didn’t miss, the Rangers were on their way to the kind of bounce-back performance that’s highlighted their deep runs each of the past two springs. New York is 6-2 since the start of the 2014 playoffs in the game immediately following a loss.
NOTES: The Rangers went 0 for 3 on the power play. The Penguins were 2 for 5. … New York scratched D Dan Girardi, the first postseason game Girardi has missed in his 10-year career. Asked on Friday if Girardi had an upper body or a lower body injury, coach Alain Vigneault replied “the whole thing.” … The matchup was the 500th playoff game for the Rangers, who are 238-254-8 in the postseason.