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Five keys for Rangers vs. Penguins, Game 4

Winning special teams, neutral-zone battles critical for New York to even series

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 4 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, MSG). The Penguins lead best-of-7 series 2-1. 

The Rangers will try to end a four-game home losing streak in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that goes back to Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final last season. They have scored three goals in those four games; one in the past three.

The Penguins will start rookie goalie Matt Murray for the second straight game. He made 16 saves in a 3-1 win in Game 3. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers.

Here are five keys for Game 4:

1. Special teams: The Penguins are winning the special teams battle through three games, a big reason why they're also winning the series. If it continues, the series might end sooner than most expect.

Pittsburgh is 4-for-13 on the power play and 11-for-12 with a shorthanded goal on the penalty kill. The Rangers have as many shorthanded goals (one) as they have power-play goals. New York has 14 shots on the power play, and six on six opportunities in the past two games.

Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Crosby redirects a feed from Kessel

The key for each team on the power play has been zone entries. The Penguins struggled with it in Game 1, but they have been much better in gaining the zone and sustaining possession and pressure in the past two games. The Rangers had no execution on their zone entries in Game 3.

"Our power play last game, other than the disallowed goal, was ineffective in a couple of areas," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Power plays and penalty killing can make a huge difference and ours need to get better."

2. Get to Murray: One of the best things the Rangers did in their 5-2 loss in Game 1 was pressure Pittsburgh goalie Jeff Zatkoff early. They had 12 shots in the first period; 11 in the first 10 minutes. It didn't work because Zatkoff made all the saves, but it was the right strategy. 

They had the wrong strategy in Game 3 against Murray. New York had only 17 shots in the game, 13 at even strength. 

"We made it too easy on [Murray] last game," Rangers forward Eric Staal said. "We're going to have to get after him."

Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Murray stones Fast on the doorstep

3. The neutral zone, again: The key battle in this series is being waged in the neutral zone. The Rangers dominated the area in Game 2 and won 4-2. The Penguins adjusted, trapped and dominated the area in Game 3.

Watch the neutral zone again in Game 4. The team that wins that area of the ice might again go on to win the game.

"I think it's an important factor with both teams," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "They are great in transition. They have some big, fast wingers who can make defensemen uncomfortable with their speed, beat guys wide and take advantage. We want to be a difficult team to play against and turn things as quickly as possible because when we do, we have wings and some pretty quick centers who can get up the ice and make things difficult."

4. Where's Geno?: Penguins center Evgeni Malkin insists he feels good; he just hasn't looked the part in the two games he's played in the series. 

Malkin, who sat out the last 15 games of the regular season and Game 1 with an upper-body injury, was benched for the final 5:27 of Game 3. He played 13:30, the lowest ice time for him in a playoff game since 2007.

Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Nash opens scoring with top-shelf SHG

His poorly timed and executed pinch down from the right point on the power play directly led to Rick Nash's shorthanded goal at 39 seconds of the second period. He tripped Rangers center Derick Brassard while en route to the bench at the end of a long shift at 8:04 of the second.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has struggled to find the right fit for Malkin in the past two games. He'll try Chris Kunitz and Eric Fehr on his line to start Game 4. That was the line that finished Game 3 after Conor Sheary played with Malkin and Fehr at the start.

"I have more confidence right now," Malkin said. "I just have to play my game."

5. Nash knows: In Game 3, Nash was the power forward the Rangers need him to be. He has to be that in Game 4.

Not only did Nash score the shorthanded goal, but he was playing inside the dots on the rare times the Rangers had the puck. He was physical and looking to shoot. He also had three blocks.

Nash wasn't as big of a factor in Games 1 and 2 because he was on the outside too much. 

"For him to have success he has to be a power forward," Vigneault said. "Part of being a power forward is obviously being a physical presence, playing on the inside, going to the tough areas. I do think he did it last game more than he did in the first two. Our intentions are to move on, and he's gotta keep doing it."

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