PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season came to abrupt end Tuesday night in Game 7 of their Second Round series against the New York Rangers at CONSOL Energy Center.
Despite outshooting the Rangers by a count of 36-20 and dominating the majority of the game, Pittsburgh could not overcome a 2-1 deficit. At the final buzzer the Penguins were eliminated and the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s disappointing,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Tonight was one of our better games. We worked hard and generated some good chances.
“Unfortunately we didn’t find a way to win.”
After losing Game 1 at home, the Penguins ran off three straight victories to take a 3-1 series lead. They had opportunities in Game 5 at home and Game 6 on the road to close out the series – but failed to do so on both counts.
“The two we lost really hurt us and put us in this position,” Crosby said.
That position was a do-or-die Game 7. In the end, the Rangers won three consecutive contests to take the series.
“It’s a tough,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “We had a great team this year, worked hard, but we were up 3-1 in this series and the last three games, we lost. Of course it’s a tough feeling right now.
“The Rangers played good. It’s a good team and they showed us great hockey. Every game, we played against a tough team. They worked hard. They deserved to win.”
The turning point in the series came in Game 5 at Pittsburgh. The Penguins were coming off three of their best performances of the postseason. But the Rangers came out on fire in Game 5 and easily pulled out a 5-1 win.
“When you go up 3-1, they played their best game in Game 5,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Not being able to come up with the knockout punch there in Game 5, (you) look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series.
“They played their best game right here in our building and won that game and moved it to six.”
The difference maker in the game was Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He finished with 35 saves, including several crucial stops under heavy pressure. He was especially strong in the third period where he turned aside all 13 Penguins shots.
“If you’re going to play a Game 7 against him, if it’s going to come down to a one-game deal, you’re going to have to be really good on your defensive side of the puck,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We get down in the hockey game again and we’re pushing like crazy trying to tie the thing, and I think we’re feeling it, that we’re going to have trouble scoring. We gave up odd-man rushes the other way, but at that point we’re just trying to tie the hockey game.”
The Rangers struck first in Game 7 off a 4-on-2 rush just 5:25 into the opening period. The Penguins won a faceoff in the offensive zone, but Niskanen’s dump went off a Ranger and New York rushed the other way.
Niskanen took out Derek Dorsett at the blue line, but he moved the puck to Dominic Moore. The Rangers then had a 3-on-1 with Olli Maatta the lone defender back. Moore moved the puck over to Brian Boyle, who buried it to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
“It’s not easy. You’re playing from behind against a sound defensive hockey team with a great goaltender, you’re putting yourself in a hole," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "At the same time, I think when it happens you don’t think the game is over, you try to battle back. I think we continued to battle tonight, we just couldn’t put that second past them, get over the hump. It was clear we outplayed them, outchanced them, we played in their zone pretty much the entire game. We did not get that second one. I thought (Lundqvist) played a fantastic game for them.”
The Penguins had life after Jussi Jokinen found a Maatta rebound at the side of the net. He calmed the puck and buried it behind Lundqvist to even the score at 1-1 four minutes into the second period and ignite the crowd at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Rangers answered right away on the Penguins goal. They got the puck deep and generated a lot of scoring chances. The Penguins were running around their zone and took a penalty.
New York struck for the eventual game-winning goal when Martin St. Louis found Brad Richards all alone in the slot. Richards roofed the puck to give New York a 2-1 lead.
Lundqvist shut the door from that point on. The goal held up and the Rangers advanced.
“I knew we probably weren’t going to score three or four in third period, but certainly one goal is not out of the realm,” Niskanen said. “We threw a lot of rubber at him, we tried it the right way. We had guys diving and putting their faces into the crease trying to will it into the net. It wouldn’t go. (Lundqvist) was good. These tight playoff games, it comes down to those types of things. That one little play, one little inch, one save, that’s what it comes down to.”
--Sam Kasan, Pittsburgh Penguins
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