The Pittsburgh Penguins were already without their two All-Star centers when Jordan Staal got kicked out of the game for an out-of-character punch. That gave Dustin Jeffrey a chance to shine.
The usually mild-mannered Staal caught unsuspecting New York forward Brandon Prust with a quick left to the face in the second period and gave the Rangers a long power play that produced the tying goal.
Even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sitting out because of injuries, and the loss of Staal, the Penguins managed to pull out a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers on Tuesday night in both teams' return from the All-Star break.
"I've never seen him do anything like that," said Staal's brother, Marc, a Rangers defenseman. "Sometimes when you play each other so many times in one season, things escalate. It looks like that's what happened here, although I didn't see it at first.
"I've never seen him get thrown out of a game like that."
Jordan Staal missed the Penguins' first three matchups with the Rangers this season due to injury, and has recorded only four fights in five NHL regular seasons. He was unavailable for comment after the game.
With Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Arron Asham all out, Jeffrey's ice time increased. He made the most of it by scoring one of Pittsburgh's three second-period goals and then netting the only goal in a seven-round shootout to lift the injury-depleted Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves through overtime and then stopped all seven attempts in the shootout to outduel fellow All-Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who turned aside 23 shots.
"The All-Star game was basically shootouts all weekend," Fleury said.
Jeffrey scored in the top half of the seventh round. Fleury then denied Marian Gaborik to give the Penguins their fifth straight win at Madison Square Garden.
"There is a lot of ice time available," said the 22-year-old Jeffrey, who has played in 23 NHL games. "That's probably the most I've played so far this season"
New York's Ryan Callahan, who missed the previous 19 games because of a broken hand, tied it at 3 in the closing seconds of the second period after the Penguins netted three consecutive goals to grab the lead. Brandon Prust and Artem Anisimov had staked the Rangers to the two-goal edge.
The Penguins, playing without Crosby (concussion) for the 10th straight game and Malkin for the fourth time (sinus infection) showed grit in the second when Jeffrey, Mike Rupp, and Chris Kunitz scored.
Callahan got the Rangers even with 12.5 seconds remaining in the second when he tipped in Michael Del Zotto's shot at the tail end of New York's five-minute power play. The Rangers were given the extended advantage after Staal's sucker-punch during a scrum in front of the benches.
"It's a big goal," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Our game was good. We played hard and we had the chances. We tied the game up and played a good period. Fleury just makes one more save than Hank."
Pittsburgh gave up two goals or fewer in the six games before the All-Star break, going 5-1 in that stretch.
Staal was given a match penalty for attempting to injure Prust and was ejected. He could face additional discipline from the NHL. In addition to the absences of Crosby and Malkin, the penalty left the Penguins without their top three centers for the rest of the game.
Prust was injured briefly, but returned.
"I wasn't particularly fond of the call," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It certainly was a scrum and both guys were taking their shots. I'm not sure the penalty was warranted."
Pittsburgh had rallied with three straight goals in a span of 8:42 of the second.
Jeffrey got the comeback started at 5:30 when his shot from the left point hit diving defenseman Dan Girardi and changed direction on its way past Lundqvist. Jeffrey's third goal, 10 seconds into a power play, cut the Penguins' deficit to 2-1.
Rupp tied it 4:06 later with his fifth. Max Talbot flipped an innocent-looking shot in on Lundqvist that hit the goalie but squirted away. Rupp got free of Del Zotto and was able to knock in the rebound.
Kunitz gave Pittsburgh the lead when he tipped in defenseman Zbynek Michalek's shot from the left point with 6:48 remaining in the second.
"To let in three straight goals wasn't us," Marc Staal said. "We were able to stop it, but, in the end, we couldn't overcome it."
Notes: Malkin might play Wednesday against the New York Islanders. ... The Penguins were also without C Mark Letestu, who hurt a knee during Tuesday's morning skate. ... Pittsburgh, which owns the NHL's top penalty-killing unit, had gone six games and 10 of 11 without allowing a power-play goal. They were successful on 21 straight short-handed situations and 19 consecutive on the road before Callahan scored. ... New York C Vinny Prospal (knee) is expected to make his season debut Thursday against New Jersey.