Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/15/12

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 27: General Manager and President Glen Sather of the New York Rangers works the phones during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New York Rangers GM Glen Sather stated earlier in the week that the Pittsburgh Penguins were the best team in the National Hockey League. The general manager's theory was proven true this evening at Madison Square Garden, but unfortunately it came at the expense of his own club.

You can take various routes when analyzing this game from the standpoint of the Rangers, but the bottom line is that the better team came away with two points tonight. The better team capitalized on their opportunities; the better team received solid goaltending; the better team proved that their lineup extends much deeper than that of their opponent. Is it the end of the world for the Rangers? Absolutely not, as they still hold a four-point lead over the Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But, at the very least, they've finally met their match.

At the very beginning of the game the Rangers came out buzzing in front of their home crowd despite majority of the media in attendance being there for the hype around Sidney Crosby's return. But Matt Cooke's fluke goal, which 87 was out on the ice for, at 2:54 took the life right out of the building. Biron's sky-high rebound coupled with Stu Bickel's inability to caress the puck on his blade resulted in a goal the Blueshirts certainly didn't wish to give up at all, let alone in the first three minutes.

The Rangers answered, though, with under seven minutes left in the opening period. The first line of Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik went to work on the forecheck and eventually forced a turnover which led to Hagelin's rebound goal from in close. Actually, Brooks Orpik was taken out of the play when engaging physically with Gaborik behind the net. That left Hags all alone in the slot.

New York found themselves in a disastrous defensive pit hole to open the second period. Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke both converted on turnovers to score back-to-back in the first 2:31 of the period. One of these goals was scored while Steve Eminger and Anton Stralman were out on the ice as a pairing. This is why the Rangers need Michael Del Zotto back - to prevent pairings such as this.

Again, however, the first line came through with a big goal late in the second. Brad Richards made a superb pass to Gaborik, who found open ice in the slot. Gabby pulled the trigger and beat Marc-Andre Fleury to make this a one-goal game, 3-2, headed to the third stanza. At least this line continued to roll, once again led by the play of Richards (2 assists tonight).

Unfortunately the Blueshirts didn't come out with the effort that was expected in the final 20 minutes and ended up being steamrolled by their opponent in what quickly became a one-sided contest. First, Chris Kunitz took a beautiful pass by Sidney Crosby (who else?) and beat Biron near-post. Then, just over four minutes later, Pascal Dupuis buried a Kris Letang rebound to put the game out of reach.

Marty Biron, again starting in place of an ill Henrik Lundqvist, played well in the first half of the game. The defense in front of him was shoddy all night long, so Marty faced many quality scoring chances. He stopped most of those midway through the game, but then he lost focus just as the rest of the team and in came the weak rebound control and questionable goals allowed. At the same time, he's not to blame for this loss by any means. I'm not sure that a flu-stricken Henrik Lundqvist would've done much better, so I admittedly take back what was said in the pregame.

Ironically, I thought the Rangers defended Pittsburgh's top player - Evgeni Malkin - quite well, especially on the shift in which both Dan Girardi and Brian Boyle dumped him on his rear. As for the rest of the Pens, the Blueshirts gave them the puck in critical spots all night long. These careless turnovers need to stop if this team has any hopes of going far in the playoffs.

Their struggles began when transitioning. If you look at the Pens, they turn defense into offense in one smooth rhythmic motion. The Rangers hesitated, attempted low-percentage plays and were unable to clear their own zone. If there is anything to pin tonight's loss on, it's this right here. You simply cannot expect to win hockey games against skilled teams turning the puck over like this. It's amazing that head coach John Tortorella still had hair on his head by the time this one was over.

The offense, beyond the first kind, was nothing to behold either. Give the Pens credit, thought, as it was evident they did their homework going into this game. They defended the Rangers extremely well through the neutral zone and forced dump and chase. That was the gameplan and, for the most part, they executed it to a tee.

Like I said, this isn't the end of the world for New York. They still have a four-point lead over the Pens and were without three pretty significant names in Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto and Henrik Lundqvist. With those three healthy and in the lineup, this may have been a more closely contested game. 

Instead, though, the Rangers surrendered five regulation goals for the very first time all season to their biggest threat right now in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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