NEW YORK - The Penguins beat the New York Rangers, 4-2, in Game 4 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to take a commanding 3-1 series lead and the chance to clinch the series in Friday’s Game 5 at CONSOL Energy Center.
Chris Kunitz, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter and Evgeni Malkin all scored for the Penguins.
Here are the main storylines from the game…
In the first round against Columbus, the Penguins had the chance to take a 3-1 series stranglehold in Game 4 on the road, and didn’t take advantage of it – heading back home with it tied at 2-2.
The Pens had that same opportunity in this second round, and this time, they came through with a huge road win to sweep both games at Madison Square Garden to give them the chance to clinch at home on Friday.
“I think all of us realized the importance of every game, but especially the one tonight,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “You know you’re going back tied or you’re going back with a chance to seal the deal. So I think we’re happy with the way that we played tonight to get the big win and focus for the next one.”
Almost as soon as the Penguins got defenseman Brooks Orpik back, they lost him again.
Orpik returned to the lineup for Wednesday’s Game 4 after missing the previous five playoff games with an undisclosed injury. However, he played just under one period in the game as he did not return to the bench after the first intermission (Orpik’s last shift, played with 1:44 left in the first, lasted seven seconds). Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game Orpik left with a separate and different injury than the one he previously had.
That meant the Pens had to rotate five defensemen for the remaining 40-plus minutes of play. And for a stretch during the second, they only had four as Kris Letang went to the locker room with an equipment issue. That’s never a desirable option, but especially so in the postseason with the way both teams take their games to another level in terms of speed, physicality and compete.
“It’s always tough in the playoffs to get a guy down, especially when we were all excited to have ‘Brooksy’ back,” Martin said. “Big boost for us. Having him go down early is always tough. I think for us as a group, we managed to keep our shifts somewhat short and I think our forwards helped a lot. They were smart with the puck, managed it well and it was up to us to get the puck out and ‘Flower’ (Marc-Andre Fleury) made some big saves when he had to.”
Martin logged a game-high 30:05 minutes and was an absolute rock on the blue line for the Penguins, as he’s such a calm, steady presence back there and never panics with the puck. He’s an effortless skater that never seemed to lose a step, and neither did the other four defenseman, especially Letang.
The key for them in addition to short shifts was to make smart decisions with and without the puck and to make sure they communicated with each other given the rotating partners and playing with different guys every shift.
“In practice, we go with different D-pairs too. It wasn’t that different,” Olli Maatta said. “Everybody knows the system and everybody, all the five D who were out there, are good communicators and are really easy to play with. I think that was the biggest thing. You had to talk when the partner’s not the same every shift. You don’t want to join the rush if there’s not a chance and just save it a little bit. Play smart.”
Overall, Bylsma used the words “unbelievable” and “outstanding” to describe the play of his defensemen.
“I thought the Rangers came at us with a lot of speed,” he said. “Didn’t end up being a lot of shots on net but it felt like there was a lot more danger, a lot more speed coming at us and our defense had to do an unbelievable job. I thought those five guys back there were outstanding. Martin logs 30 minutes and Kris is at 28, they played a big part of that. I don’t know if you can say enough about the defensemen and what they did back there given the fact they played roughly 43 minutes just five of them.”
The Penguins scored their second shorthanded goal of these playoffs late in the second period to give them a 2-1 lead. Brian Gibbons created the play, and Brandon Sutter finished it off.
Well, actually it was Kris Letang who got it started when he stepped up at his own blue line to whack a bouncing puck out of danger and right up the boards to Gibbons. Gibbons skated in alone on Lundqvist and tried the same move that had worked on his other shorthanded goal in Game 2 against Columbus, but tried one too many dekes and the goalie got his pad on it. However, it just laid there enticingly in the crease – and Sutter swooped in to grab it and lift it top shelf for the score.
The Penguins killed both Rangers penalties in the game to improve to a perfect 15-for-15 in the series. The Rangers are mired in a 0-for-36 slump on the power play that dates back to the first round against Philadelphia.
The key to their shorthanded success, said Maatta, is work ethic and belief in their goaltender.
“We’re working hard,” Maatta said. “It’s not about the systems - well, it is a big thing, but they don’t work if you don’t work hard. First of all, we trust Flower out there to make us more confident in our play to kind of challenge their PP and we trust ourselves and trust the guy next to you.”
* We guess it had to end at some point. Marc-Andre Fleury’s personal and franchise-best playoff shutout streak ended at 145 minutes, 30 seconds when Carl Hagelin sniped a perfectly-placed shot into the far right corner of his net in the second period of play to even the score at 1-1.
* Jokinen’s goal stretched his career-long playoff point streak to eight games. He has five goals and eight points during that span. Overall, Jokinen has a team-leading six goals during these playoffs.
“My big goal is to win the Stanley Cup, so that’s my only goal,” Jokinen said when asked about his production. “We’re going to need everybody to step up here if we want to achieve that goal. But obviously it’s been fun to be able to help the team win some games and produce.”
--Sam Kasan, Pittsburgh Penguins