PITTSBURGH - The Penguins had, as Matt Niskanen called it after their Game 4 win, a “heck of an opportunity” to close out their second-round series against the New York Rangers in Game 5 on Friday night in front of their fans at CONSOL Energy Center.
They let that opportunity slip away.
The Rangers beat the Penguins, 5-1, to keep their season alive and force a Game 6 back home on Sunday night in New York City. Heading back on the road, the Penguins have to put this one behind them quickly, move on and focus on the next one.
“I don’t think there’s much good to take from it, to be honest with you,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think we’ve got to make sure we come with the right mindset going into New York. Whatever mindset we were playing with tonight, it wasn’t enough.”
“We’ve won (at MSG). We know that,” head coach Dan Bylsma added. “You have to turn the page real quick. We’re getting on a plane (Saturday) and going to the Garden for Game 6. It’s a tough place to play, a tough building and a team that’s playing desperate. We have to play that same desperation and we have to do it back there.”
After falling into a 2-0 hole after the first period, the Penguins got back into the game with a goal from Evgeni Malkin in the second. But the Rangers responded a few minutes later with two goals in a 58-second span to get a 4-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Here are the main storylines from the game…
“Desperation” was a word used by the Penguins to describe the way they needed to play tonight, as they knew the Rangers, with their backs against the wall and their season on the brink of elimination, were going to be coming at them with their very best. “We have to be ready not only to respond, but to top it,” center Brandon Sutter said this morning.
Well, while the Rangers played with desperation, that intangible eluded the Pens.
The Rangers came at them with everything they had from the drop of the puck, especially on the forecheck as they came at Pittsburgh in waves. And the Pens couldn’t weather the storm, surrendering a 2-0 lead to the Rangers after the first period of play.
“Definitely in the first period we knew they were going to be hungry, and we didn’t even come close to matching the desperation that we needed, so that’s something we have to be much better in,” Crosby said.
While the Pens were able to sustain pressure for stretches of that opening 20 minutes, for the most part the Rangers had them back on their heels and made it tough for them to break out and get through the neutral zone. They were all over every loose puck and were winning all the battles.
While the Penguins responded with a much improved second, scoring just 3:23 in to cut the Rangers’ lead to one goal, ultimately they couldn’t lift themselves out of the early hole they dug themselves into. Because just a few minutes later, the Rangers responded with two more goals in a 58-second span to leave the Penguins in their rearview mirror and never look back.
“I thought they came out like a team whose season was on the brink. At the start, I think we played like a team who had an automatic bid to the next round,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “When it’s 2-0 right off the bat and you’re playing from behind, it’s not easy. You have to take chances, you have to play your big offensive guys, you’ve got to wear them out and it’s never easy. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves tonight.”
Heading into tonight, the Rangers’ power play hadn’t scored on their last 36 tries. If they were unable to convert their first man-advantage opportunity of the game, they would have set a new NHL record for most consecutive power plays without a goal. But Rangers forward Chris Kreider ensured his team wouldn’t be written into the history books as he opened the scoring 9:36 into the first period with Robert Bortuzzo in the box to end his team’s lengthy slump.
The Rangers all but ensured their power-play troubles were dead and buried when they followed that up by scoring just 16 seconds into their next power-play opportunity in the second period. Down 3-1 at that point, the Penguins needed to come up with a huge kill and prevent them from scoring on that chance, but they didn’t. New York finished 2-for-3 in the game.
“Obviously it doesn’t help,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said of the two-goal sequence. “I thought we were coming, we got the big goal from (Malkin) there and we were doing some good things, getting some good chances. For them to get that one, yeah it took a little wind out of our sails and the power play one obviously hurts. That’s hockey, though.”
Conversely, the Penguins’ power play, which hasn’t been as big of a storyline despite its relative ineffectiveness these past few games, couldn’t convert any of their four opportunities. They were big missed chances, as both came at the end of periods with a chance to gain momentum heading into the intermissions. Their biggest folly was at the end of the second, where the Penguins had 1:23 minutes on the 5-on-3 and couldn’t even record a shot on net. They are now 1-for-15 on the power play in this series.
“It’s big,” Crosby said of the special-teams battle. “All playoffs, you’re going to see that. (Losing it is) definitely that’s something we can’t allow to happen. It’s going to hurt you if you lose that battle. You see that tonight what happens there.”
One bright spot from the game for the Pens was the play of Evgeni Malkin.
He was the one guy that stood out in a generally lackluster first, playing with fire, passion, energy and speed. And in the second, he managed to take his game to an even higher level by scoring an absolutely magnificent highlight-reel goal. It was timely, too, as it cut New York’s lead to 2-1 early in the second and got the Pens back in the game, if only for a few minutes.
On the play, Malkin took a pass from defenseman Kris Letang at center ice, turned and had four white jerseys waiting for him. No problem. Malkin carried it through all of them, deking through defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and managing to get a shot on net. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist saved that one, but Malkin picked up his own rebound and wired it over the prone netminder from the goal line.
Bylsma has had Malkin and Crosby on a line with Chris Kunitz since Game 5 of their first-round series against Columbus, and that didn’t change tonight. They certainly generated the most chances and had the most extended offensive-zone shifts in the Rangers’ end.
--Michelle Crechiolo, Pittsburgh Penguins