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Suddenly, Rangers Look More Like Their Regular Season Selves

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The Recent York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins would have been hard-pressed to repeat the drama of the opening game of their playoff series, which the Penguins won in triple time beyond regulation.

The division rivals battled again on Thursday, only this time, the younger Rangers held off the more experienced Penguins despite the efforts of their endlessly creative star center, Sidney Crosby.

After 106 minutes of hockey on Tuesday, the query was whether the Rangers — and particularly their goalie, Igor Shesterkin, who had stopped 79 shots — would bounce back. After an uneven start, Shesterkin and the Rangers found their footing within the second period and went on to win, 5-2, in convincing fashion.

“It was a very good first step in the best direction,” said Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, who scored a goal and had two assists.

The victory evened the best-of-seven series, which now moves to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday. It also keeps the youthful Rangers, who returned to the playoffs for the primary time in five seasons after amassing 108 points within the regular season, within the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

That’s excellent news for the N.H.L., which thrives when its older clubs are winning.

Because the playoff brackets were finalized last week, the top-selling merchandise on Fanatics, the biggest online seller of licensed sporting goods, belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rangers and Boston Bruins, all “Original Six” teams.

For all the regular season, the highest 4 best selling teams were the Seattle Kraken (who made their debut in 2021), the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Rangers. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins took the subsequent two spots.

Sales of Rangers merchandise jumped 190 percent compared with last season, Fanatics said.

“Nothing against the Flames or teams within the Southeast, but that original group of teams remains to be pretty darn strong,” said Andy Dolich, a longtime marketing executive with the Oakland A’s, San Francisco 49ers and Memphis Grizzlies, who sold season tickets for the Washington Capitals within the Seventies just after they joined the N.H.L.

The league’s oldest teams have also bolstered television viewership. The number of individuals tuning into the primary eight games of the playoffs on ESPN and ESPN2 this week was 15 percent higher than the primary two nights of the playoffs in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the primary night of the playoffs, the most-viewed game was the Boston Bruins-Carolina Hurricanes matchup. On Tuesday, the Penguins-Rangers triple-overtime game was the most-watched opening playoff game on cable television since 1994, in response to ESPN.

“There’s equal passion across all 32 teams, but quality and quantity are two various things,” said Emily Kaplan, who covers the N.H.L. for the network. “The equity the unique six teams have built is tough to the touch.”

The Rangers were hard to the touch throughout the second half on Thursday.

They struck first lower than seven minutes in when Panarin, their best passer, held the puck within the left slot and waited until he could find Andrew Copp, who fired the puck past Penguins goalie Louis Domingue, who was screened by Ryan Strome.

Two minutes later, Crosby stole the puck from Panarin at center ice, skated into the offensive zone and lost the puck, but it found its approach to Jacob Guentzel, who shot it past Shesterkin.

For the primary 20 minutes, the Rangers looked just like the more exhausted team — particularly Shesterkin, who was unable to manage many shots, creating second probabilities for the Penguins.

However the Rangers found their rhythm after the Penguins were called for a penalty a minute into the second period. The Rangers had the fourth best power play throughout the regular season, but that they had just one man-advantage opportunity on Tuesday.

“It was about time” the Penguins were called for a penalty, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after the sport.

With seconds left on the penalty, Strome tipped in a shot that Panarin fired toward the online. That looked as if it would energize the Rangers. About 12 minutes into the second period, Chris Kreider, who scored 52 goals throughout the regular season, redirected a shot by Frank Vatrano into the online.

But Crosby showed again why he stays among the finest players in the sport. With 90 seconds left within the period, he carried the puck from deep within the Penguins’ defensive zone to the Rangers’ end of the ice, much of it with Rangers defenseman Justin Braun in close pursuit. Crosby passed the puck to Bryan Rust, who shot; Crosby scooped up the rebound and put it in the online.

“Overall, we contained him a bit bit, but he’s an incredible player,” Gallant said of his team’s defense against Crosby, who had a goal and an assist.

The Rangers put the sport away eight minutes into the third period, when Panarin skated behind the Penguins’ net and tossed the puck into the goal crease, where it hit the skate of Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson and bounced into the online.

Panarin said he was attempting to pass the puck to defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Lower than two minutes later, Vatrano raced down the best, eluding Matheson, and shot the puck over the best shoulder of Domingue for a 5-2 lead.

Domingue was the hero for the Penguins on Tuesday, entering the sport within the second time beyond regulation and stopping all 17 shots he faced. On Thursday, making his first start within the playoffs, he was unable to carry back the faster Rangers.

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