Rangers close frustrating season on a high note

PITTSBURGH – Jake Guentzel's 40th goal of the season had a significant impact on the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Guentzel scored with 2:35 to play, sending the end of Saturday's regular season against the New York Rangers in overtime.

Ryan Strome scored 2:09 in overtime, as the Rangers beat Pittsburgh 4-3 on Saturday night, but the point that the Penguins won prevented them from falling in the first wild card of the Eastern Conference.

"There was a lot of emotion," Guentzel said. "It was nice to get that and get a big point for us."
Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Nick Bjugstad scored for the Penguins, who won one point to secure third place in the Metropolitan Division and a confrontation with the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. Matt Murray finished with 26 saves and started with 20 of the last 21 Pittsburgh games.

Due to Carolina's regulation victory on Saturday, a regulation defeat would have brought Pittsburgh to the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. That would have paired Pittsburgh with Stanley Cup defending champion Washington Capitals, the team that ended the Penguins' string of consecutive championships last season.

Instead, Pittsburgh will get the islanders in the first round.

Vladislav Namestnikov celebrates after scoring a short goal in the third period.
Vladislav Namestnikov celebrates after scoring a short goal in the third period.UPI

"The islanders will be a tough opponent," penguin coach Mike Sullivan said. "They are a really good team, they had a great year and we had very hard battles against them, I'm excited about the opportunity we have."

Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei and Vladislav Namestnikov also scored for New York, eliminated for a long time from the playoff race for the second year in a row. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 36 shots while starting for the second consecutive night. The Rangers broke a three-game skid and won for the fifth time in their last 21 games (5-10-6).

"I simply appreciated their effort," said Rangers coach David Quinn. "This has been a great group to train in. Obviously, it's not the season we wanted to have and it certainly is not the record we wanted to have, we certainly want to play beyond this point next year, but they gave it their all."

Skjei and Namestnikov scored a difference of 1:16 to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 6:10 left in regulation. Namestnikov's goal was the 15th scoreboard allowed by Pittsburgh, tied for the worst in the league.

"You're going to play a power game with the possibility of winning the game and it changes pretty fast when you're marked," Crosby said. "I think that's how we got to that point, the fact that they scored two rapids."

However, Guentzel came through Pittsburgh. He became the twentieth player in the history of the franchise to score at least 40 goals. Crosby, who scored 35 years earlier in the game, had an badist on the play for his 100 point. Crosby reached the mark for the sixth time in his career, and the first time since 2013-14.

"Sid and Jake have probably been our most consistent players throughout the year," said Sullivan. "I think 40 goals in this league is a great achievement, especially a young player like Jake, I think Sid getting 100 points is a great achievement too."
The penguins were happy with their return in the third period, but they were not particularly happy with the end of the regular season as a whole against the Rangers.

Pittsburgh will seek to rectify that in the playoffs against the islanders.

"I do not think it's been one of our best games lately," Sullivan said. "I thought we were far from our game away from the puck and, as a result, we left more quality opportunities than we should have had." I have to believe that we are excited about the opportunity that we have before us. I know we are able to play much better. "

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