|Pens lead series 3-1|
The Rangers came into this one, knowing it was as close as a team could possibly get to a “must-win” before actually having a “must-win” game. The narrative had been that they had played 5 games in 7 and that both teams had played 3 games in 4 days. After the Rangers were able to outlast the Penguins in Game 1, the Penguins had taken control of the series on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury and team defense. Though Fleury’s shutout streak ended, and he did allow a weak goal that made this one a bit more interesting than it would have been otherwise, the Penguins were once again dominant.
The Penguins just haven’t allowed the Rangers to possess the puck for any extended period of time. The Rangers power play continued to look like some combination of feces and vomit, and now actually has a negative rate of success, as unsung hero Brian Gibbons teamed up with Brandon Sutter to tally a shorthanded marker that broke this one open.
The Rangers’ effort was even a bit listless at times, as their reliance on Henrik Lundqvist has began to show fault lines. Ryan McDonagh had a rough one, and so did Marc Staal. The “King” might be watching his empire fall.
Cover image courtesy Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Full recap after the break.
Lineup: Brooks Orpik took part in the morning skate and was deemed ready to go, so he made his way back into the lineup to play with Rob Scuderi in place of Brotuzzo. Everyone ever knew this would happen and that Bort would be the odd man out, so it is what it is. The rest of the lineup remained unchanged from Game 3. For those with faulty memories or faulted left clicking abilities, Crosby centered Kunitz and Malkin to start, Sutter was with Jokinen and Neal, Bennett-Goc-Stempniak, and Gibbons-Vitale-Adams. Letang got to stay with Martin and Maatta with Niskanen.
For the Rangers, Chris Kreider made his return from injury (broken hand) as well, while Carcillo was re-inserted for JT Miller and Jesper Fast respectively.
First chance of the game came on the 2nd shift of the game for either team. Stepan made a nice move to drive around Niskanen and throw a wicked backhander at Fleury. He made the save, but the Rangers gathered up the rebound. Nash had a chance at it, as did Stepan on the wraparound. Kreider, who got a big ovation from the Garden faithful upon stepping onto the ice, was swarming as well but MAF was able to save and freeze.
Orpik got his first shift of the game after that and ended it by absolutely destroying Brad Richards into the curved glass at the end of the bench that used to be a turnbuckle.
But with just over 2 and a half minutes into the game, the first real mistake happened. Stralman looked for a stretch pass and found only the stick of one Evgeni Malkin just outside of the Rangers zone. Malkin weaved his way in, opened up, and found Crosby with a long cross-ice pass. Crosby looked like he had a chance to snipe, but instead looked to dish to Kunitz driving. It got deflected, but the lackluster backchecking by the Rags let the puck come to Malkin, who spun and whipped a backhander underneath Lundqvist. 1-0
The Pens’ “trap” was in full effect early on too. It led to the goal, but also led to two other neutral zone turnovers in the first 5 minutes. The Rangers just insisted on trying the stretch pass and the Pens were in the way of everything. Anyone remember that Pens/Boston series last year? Yeah, that. The trap was also forcing the Rangers to only enter the zone via dump ins or wide along the boards yet again, effectively cutting down on shots from dangerous areas of the ice.
After a big shift by Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin where Kunitz kept taking the puck off of Kreider, hemming the Rangers in their zone, the Pens 3rd line of Bennett-Goc-Stempniak got out to keep them pinned in. Stempniak made a sick little outside-inside move to get around McDonagh and get a shot to the net all while being hooked up by Hagelin. Pens first PP of the night with 12:23 remaining in the period, which they struggled to set up in the first 45 seconds. When they did, they weren’t able to get a clean look at Lundqvist because of some quality penalty killing by the Blue Shirts. The Pens actually looked better after the penalty expired, with Bennett-Crosby-Malkin imposing their will. Malkin got another pass given to him by a Rangers defenseman, faked the shot and dished it down low to Bennett, who took it straight to the cage and looked to jam it home. Malkin swooped in and picked up the rebound, got it to the point to Scuderi, who launched a shot on net. The puck popped to Beau alone in front, but he got robbed by King Henrik with an unbelievable pad save.
The Penguins had to go into survival mode with just under 7 minutes to play for about a 2 minute stretch. It started off well with the Pens getting a chance and Scuderi making some nice play, but then he got tied up at the blue line with Zuccarello at the blue line and they both toppled over. Orpik retrieved the puck and got a big thump from Pouliot. Brassard put a hit on Gibbons as he tried to clear and the survival sequence was initiated. The Rangers just kept coming with those guys and even when they attempted to clear, they got pinned back in by Kreider-Stepan-Nash. Took a warrior effort by all 5 guys on the Pens 4th line and 3rd D pairing to clear it until the Rangers top line brought it right back down their throats. Fleury froze a Staal shot, who took an extra stab at the puck and got his stick up in the face of Geno to give the Pens their second powerplay, which they failed to really set up and register a shot. Staal and his tinted visor can GTFO.
The Rangers would get their first PP of the night with 1:08 left. Girardi ran Kunitz from behind, causing his face to hit the boards in front of the Rangers bench. Kunitz turned and gave Girardi a one handed slash to his leg, which Girardi took as hard as a shotgun wound, drawing the penalty. Not smart by Kunitz, sure. But big time sales job by Girardi. Pens had no trouble escaping the period without being challenged by the Rangers anemic powerplay though. Shots through the first 20 sat at 7-6 in favor of the Pens. Attempted shots were 15-9 in favor of the Pens and a lot of the reason they had so much of the puck was the 11-6 faceoff advantage as well as the 11 (!!!) credited giveaways that the Rangers had.
With 52 seconds of powerplay time left to work with, the Rangers did nothing. Bagel on their last 35 chances with the extra man.
The pace slowed down a bit following the penalty expiration, but about 4 minutes into the period, hell started to break loose a bit. The Rags were able to do a nice job keeping Scuderi and Letang stuck in the defensive zone at the end of their shift. Bennett-Goc-Stempniak took it to the Rangers at the other end by continuing their solid play and it allowed Malkin and Crosby to get after a worn down Rangers 5-some, but Lundqvist stood tall on the beasts.
Then at the 5:30 mark, the Rangers finally solved The Fleury Problem. McDonagh threw a little pass to Hagelin streaking through the neutral zone. Niskanen slid to the wall expecting a pass to Richards and it opened up a lane for Hagelin to walk right through and snap a shot glove side on Fleury. 1-1
Niskanen probably keeps Hagelin from scoring that if he stays in his lane. Hagelin dishing that to Richards isn’t as dangerous as Hagelin’s speed hitting that gap. Though Rob Scuderi was out there for the goal, that one really wasn’t his fault. Believe us, we’d tell you if it were.
Malkin and Crosby almost responded immediately. They combined with Kunitz and Crosby found a little seam to hit Malkin for a one-timer that Lundqvist made a huge save on. Kreider and Stepan went the other way with it and the former threw the latter an area pass looking for a redirect that came, but Fleury was there to kick it away with a fine save.
The game opening up more and more meant that the Pens were not able to really close up shop in the neutral zone. The Rangers were finding a lot more space to skate into and enter the zone a little more freely. The game being tied probably had a little to do with it because they Pens were kind of forced to have to get after it and try to score. The Pens were seeing more of the puck as the period wore on, but they were having to work for it more rather than having the Rangers give them the puck.
The Rangers were, however, getting more odd man rushes. Nash and Kreider had a 2 on 1 with just under 5 minutes remaining after Crosby dove to make a play and took himself out of it. Letang did a nice job on it to take away the pass and forcing Nash to shoot. MAF was there again.
On Crosby and Malkin’s next shift, they got in deep trying to dig the puck out on Staal and Stralman, but Brassard came away with it. Malkin kept reaching for it and ended up tripping up Brassard with 2:41 left. To add insult to injury to the rough Rangers powerplay, a bad drop pass allowed Gibbons to put Nash under pressure and make a bad play on his backhand. Letang knocked the puck out of midair and send Gibbons in on a breakaway. He tried to go forehand-backhand-forehand to beat Lundqvist, but couldn’t because someone gave him adult-sized shoulder pads. Sutter crashed the net and cashed in through. 2-1
Sutter almost scored again shorthanded after a St. Louis giveaway, but Lundqvist was up to the task. Pens killed off the Malkin penalty and got Crosby and Kunitz out there for the last shift of the period. Scuderi’s shot found its way to Malkin’s stick in the circle and he had a goal lined up, but Lundqvist again denied.
Shots in the 2nd were 11-5 Pens (18-11 by the property of maths). The Penguins were also crushing it in the faceoff dot through 40 minutes at 24-11, while giveaways jumped to 19-7 “in favor” of the Rangers. The Rangers did have some chances, but they were a lot of one-and-done type deals. Pens had the puck maybe even more in the 2nd with attempted shots jumping up to 32-17 (17-8 in the 2nd alone). But again, when the center with the lowest faceoff percentage was at 57% giving you initial possession and you’re taking the puck from the other team, you’re going to have a lot more of the puck because
With the amount that the Pens were swarming around every pass the Rangers made, it felt like they had eleventy guys on the ice. They kept picking off every pass and taking it back the other way. Malkin just missed on a one-timer on the first shift of the period. Bennett and Stempniak had a magnetic shift where the puck just kept finding them, but they weren’t able to punish the Rangers either.
Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin continued to demonstrate that they were the best line in the hockey game on their next shift. Crosby was gifted a puck the offensive zone, did a little dancing and got the puck to Kunitz and to the net. Crosby then out-worked some joke to take the puck and try a wraparound that didn’t go. They worked it to Letang at the point and his blast was taken by Crosby, who’s backhander was stopped. He just wouldn’t stop, got the puck again, and it went to the net. Lundqvist froze it finally as the Pens were looking for it though while Marc Staal made another attempt at decapitating Sid.
Lundqvist was getting worked and making a ton of saves, but all game long he looked like he was fighting the puck. With 12:58 left, Neal went to work on Staal after blocking his a shot, lifting his stick to take the puck, and drop it to Jokinen. He took a backhander, circled the net, looked like he was going to go to the point, then spun and threw it at the cage. Does it matter how it went in? 3-1
The Penguins were given a chance to really drive the nail in the Rangers Game 4 coffin with 9:14 left when Kreider high sticked Crosby to give the lethal Penguins powerplay their 3rd chance of the game. Lethal it looked too. Crosby and Malkin again were Crosby and Malkin and did some work down low, drawing the attention of the whole PK unit. It meant Kunitz was left alone in front and was found, but a diving Lundqvist denied the Penguins their 4th goal of the game, eventually leading to a killed penalty too.
Wouldn’t say they necessarily gained momentum from the kill, but the Rangers got something out of it. Vigneault shipped out Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello to try to get something going. Zuccarello was found and he got into the zone, swung high around to the other side of the ice and threw a harmless looking backhander at the net that found some space to squeak through on just the Rangers 2nd shot of the period. 3-2
Not a good goal for Fleury to give up, but it didn’t matter. Just as the Rangers got their best line out after a big event, the Pens did too. Just 57 seconds later, Crosby softly dumped the puck to the corner from the neutral zone. Malkin torched McDonagh, turned the corner on him, and laid a backhand pass on a platter for Kunitz in front. 4-2
LOL at St. Louis not even bothering to defend Kunitz. Maybe he’ll demand a trade now.
An offensive zone faceoff for the Rangers with 2:24 left meant Lundqvist vacated the net for the extra attacker. Pens put on their hard hats, safety glasses, and shit-kicking boots to take care of business and close it out. Game.
1) Does it need said that Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin may be the best thing ever or the greatest thing ever? It’s common knowledge now that Crosby and Malkin made the decision to play together and it may be the best decision Bylsma never had to make. With as good as
Kesler Sutter has been and how Goc is truly a 3rd line center, it just makes sense. Why not load up when you’re getting solid play out of your not Sidney Crosbys and Evgeni Malkins as well as your Sidney Crosbys and Evgeni Malkins? And if they keep doing the things to other teams like they did to the Jackets and now Rangers, look out.
2) Letang and Martin were outstanding yet again. They actually saw a lot of time with Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin too (nearly 10 minutes each with that line at even strength) and when you have your 5 best players on the ice together, good things are going to happen. Martin ended up playing 30:05, while Letang clocked in at 27:56. Some of that had to do with the Orpik injury (see below).
3) Pens played another outstanding team defense game and it started from the offensive zone. They put the Rangers under pressure immediately when they had the puck, clogged up the neutral zone, and were smothering and organized in the defensive zone. Thank you, based Jacques Martin. It led to the Rags giving the puck away 25 times. Usually the giveaway stat has a lot of human error, but last night, that seems just about spot on. And when the Rangers did happen to break down the Pens staunch defense, Fleury was there to bail them out. And when he didn’t bail them out (once), the Pens bailed him out by pulling the goal back 57 seconds later. Lights out full team effort.
4) Worth noting that Orpik played just 5:15 and had a really awkward collision with Zuccarello. Looks like the #FreeBrotuzzo hashtag worked for once! Shut up, Penguins Sauce.
Orpik's injury tonight is separate from what he had before which held him out of the last 5 games, per #Pens coach Bylsma
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 8, 2014
Do you want puck possession? Because that’s how you get puck possession. Shot attempts finished at 46-25 in favor of the Pens and 37-19 Pens at even strength. Those are just insane numbers really. Shots on goal were 27-15 at the end of the game too. Mix the aforementioned 25 giveaways, team defense, and winning 31-18 in the faceoff dot and you have a recipe for the aforementioned puck domination. The Pens had just 3 guys with sub-50% CF% in James Neal (47.1%), Goc (46.7%), and Orpik (not counting this because 5 minutes of ice time). For the sake of comparison, only Nash (55%) and Kreider (50%) were at greater than or equal to 50% for the Rangers. Nash also had 4 of the Rangers 15 shots on goal, but because he hasn’t scored in 13 games and had a turnover lead to a goal, he got the shit booed out of him. Sorry, but Rick Nash is not the reason the Rangers are losing. Just gonna throw that out there. But Marty St. Louis was a miserable 17.9%, with his Corsi For at 5 and Corsi Against at 23. Yikes. Unsurprisingly, Crosby (27-7, 79.4%), Malkin (29-8, 78.4%), Kunitz (20-6, 76.9%), Martin (28-10, 73.7%), and Letang (33-12, 73.3%) were the top Corsi guys for the Pens. Bennett, Adams, and Vitale all had CF% of 71.4% too, but their For/Againsts weren’t nearly as impressive as the Big 5, who really just at McDonagh and Girardi alive at even strength. And to think, people were really worried about that matchup coming into this series.
Game 5 is on Friday evening at 7 PM on Consol Energy Center ice. Close this bitch out. Praise be to Cheechoo. Go Pens.