NEW YORK - Pittsburgh’s 2-0 win over the New York Rangers in Monday's Game 3 certainly wasn’t as pretty execution-wise as their 3-0 win in Game 2 just 24 hours earlier, but what matters is that the Penguins got it done. They gutted this one out and were rewarded with a 2-1 series lead.
“They came out of the gate pretty hard,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “They came with speed, they chipped pucks and kind of got us on our heels. But when it was time to make big plays, we did. So we’ll take that one, but we’ll get better.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury posted his second straight shutout, and captain Sidney Crosby snapped his 13-game playoff goalless drought by scoring the winner. Jussi Jokinen also found the back of the net for Pittsburgh. Here’s all of the storylines from the game…
Head coach Dan Bylsma was asked, yet again, about the 13-game playoff goal-less drought of his captain Sidney Crosby two hours before the puck dropped to start Game 3 of the Penguins Second Round series against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday night.
Bylsma’s response: “Eventually you are going to see him get a goal. Eventually you are going to see him breakout, there is no question about that.”
Eventually turned out to be the 2:34 mark of the second period.
Heading into these playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury said he was ready to answer his critics after two disappointing postseason performances. We’d say back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 against the New York Rangers to give the Penguins a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals is quite a response.
“I’ve won a lot of hockey games with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. (During the) regular season and this team has won a Stanley Cup with him in the net, so I’ve seen him play and win a lot of hockey games,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
“I don’t know when the questions started for Marc, when he was 17, 18, whatever. They’ve been asking him those questions for a long time and he’s done nothing but answer those questions, and that’s what he’s doing with his play and that’s what he’s doing here winning hockey games for us.”
Last season, Jussi Jokinen was a healthy scratch in seven of Pittsburgh’s 15 playoff games. This year, he’s developed into arguably their most clutch and consistent player so far this run.
Jokinen has points in all but one of Pittsburgh’s nine total games, and his goal on Monday extended his career-high playoff point streak to seven games dating back to Game 3 vs. Columbus. He has four goals and seven points over that span.
Jokinen scored on a breakaway, seconds after stepping out of the penalty box after serving two minutes for holding the stick. He jumped on a turnover by Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello and went in all alone on Lundqvist, ripping it past him to put the Pens up 2-0.
“’Juice’ is one of those guys, if you’re picking a guy for a big goal, game-winning goal or overtime goal, he’s one of the guys you would want to pick,” Bylsma said. “He has a knack for scoring big goals. He’s done it in the past. Every one of his goals this year in the playoffs has been a big goal, a game-winning goal. Tonight it’s a huge dagger in the game for us to get that second goal and at that point in the game.”
The Penguins’ penalty kill, which was a weakness during the first round against Columbus, has developed into one of their biggest strengths during this second round. It’s been a perfect 14-for-14 so far against the Rangers.
The Rangers had five power plays in Monday’s game, one of which was a double minor assessed to James Neal late in the first period, with the score at 0-0, after he high-sticked Rangers forward Jesper Fast in the mouth and drew blood.
While it wasn’t always pretty, the Penguins were able to kill all four minutes of Neal’s penalty – and to top it off, Crosby scored shortly after the winger was released from the box to give the Pens a 1-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“It set the tone for the game,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If they score one there it has a totally different feel to it. We’re playing OK up to that point but they have the edge in shots. More zone time than we do. They’re coming after us. We kill that and then an opportunistic play, ‘Sid’ buries one. It’s a really different look. They get a four-minute power play that’s a big swing in the game. Good job to survive it and then be opportunistic.”
The Pens’ second goal was also opportunistic, as it came immediately after following another penalty kill in the third. They capped off the night with a final timely kill on a penalty to Paul Martin with just under two minutes left in regulation.
The Rangers’ struggles with the man-advantage date back to before this series, as they’re now mired in an abysmal 0-for-33 drought on the power play. But while the focus has been on their inability to score, Letang said it wasn’t like they were without any chances.
“I don’t think their power play is bad. I think they have had great scoring chances,” he said. “They have good looks, they have good guys that shoot the puck. It’s just a question of finishing. We got good breaks tonight and guys made plays at the right moment. And obviously ‘Flower’ came up big at the right time.”
--Michelle Crechiolo, Pittsburgh Penguins