NEW YORK — Kevin Klein lost part of his ear in the first period, then found the back of the net in overtime to give the New York Rangers a stirring victory.
Klein, known more for his defense, has discovered his offensive game this season. The defenseman has scored a career-best six goals and has a career-high three game-winners — including two in overtime.
His latest was the difference in a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 8 after the Rangers squandered a late two-goal lead when the Penguins struck twice in 24 seconds.
“It might have hit their D-man in front. I was just trying to get it by,” Klein said of his slap shot. “When it went in, I was pretty happy.”
Klein’s first goal of the season was also in overtime in a 4-3 win on Oct. 21 at New Jersey. He then netted the winner on Nov. 19 against Philadelphia.
This one was even more dramatic because early in the game, Klein was bloodied by a high stick from Pittsburgh’s Zach Sill that ripped off part of his ear. That was reattached, and Klein resumed his role on the ice and scored for the second straight game.
“I am getting a lot of heat because I’m not using him on the power play,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said with a smile. “That is the second time he has come up real big for us in overtime.
“Good for him. He lost a piece of his ear, and they sewed it back. Say what you want about hockey players, but they are tough.”
Rick Nash broke a second-period tie with his sixth goal in eight games, and Henrik Lundqvist returned to the net with 32 saves for New York.
Nash and J.T. Miller scored in the middle period to turn a one-goal deficit into a lead, and Kevin Hayes made it 3-1 with 7:02 left in regulation. Lundqvist earned his third win in his past five appearances after sitting out New York’s 3-2 loss at Detroit on Dec. 6.
“We needed it for a couple reasons,” Lundqvist said. “Obviously for confidence, but also we need points to get back in the race.”
New York, fourth in the Metropolitan Division and 11 points behind Pittsburgh, has four days off before starting a four-game trip at Vancouver on Dec. 13.
Nick Spaling staked Pittsburgh to a 1-0 lead in the first period, and Evgeni Malkin and Steve Downie scored in rapid succession in the third. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for the Penguins, who have dropped two of three overall and two of three to the Rangers this season.
Malkin started the comeback with his 15th goal at 15:17, and Downie tied it with his fourth seconds later after the Rangers couldn’t handle a bouncing puck in their end. Downie also assisted on Spaling’s goal.
“It wasn’t easy,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It was a good job by everyone to stick with it and get ourselves into overtime … but it’s never fun losing.
“Sometimes you don’t always get the result you want, but you have to be able to look in the mirror, and I think everyone did that.”
Pittsburgh wore its old-school, black-and-gold uniforms but fell to 9-2-2 on the road. New York has earned a point in eight of the last nine regular-season meetings with the Penguins (5-1-3).
The Rangers finished the first period and started the second on the power play, thanks to Hill’s 4-minute high-sticking penalty that caused Klein’s injury.
New York didn’t take advantage of that, but tallied the tying and go-ahead goals 4:50 apart to take a 2-1 lead. After Lundqvist made a save on a short-handed breakaway early in the second, the Rangers seemed to gain their legs and energy.
Miller tied it 1-all off a feed from Martin St. Louis at 3:50 for his second of the season. Nash put New York in front at 8:40 with his 18th goal — the second-most in the NHL.
Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 lead with 7:25 left in the first when Crosby set up Spaling with a cross-zone pass that was converted into a rising shot for Spaling’s fourth goal.
Crosby has gone seven games without a goal and has just one in his last 10 games. However, he leads the NHL with 26 assists in 27 games.
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)