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Penguins beat Rangers again, take 3-1 series lead

by Adam Kimelman

NEW YORK -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen remembers what is was like last spring watching Stanley Cup Playoff games from the press box. The way he's going, it's doubtful coach Dan Bylsma wants to take him off the ice at all.

Jokinen scored his sixth goal of the postseason in the Penguins' 4-2 win against the New York Rangers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series Wednesday and pulled within one win from a return trip to the Eastern Conference Final.

Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist, and Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz also scored for the Penguins. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 13 saves to help Pittsburgh take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

The Penguins, who were swept by the Boston Bruins in the conference final last spring, can advance to the third round with a win in Game 5 on Friday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Pittsburgh played the final two periods with five defensemen; Brooks Orpik left the game after the first period. Orpik was playing for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed injury in Game 4 of the Penguins' first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Orpik played nine shifts and had 5:15 of ice time. The Penguins had no update on Orpik's condition after the game, only saying his new injury is not related to his previous one.

Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello scored for the Rangers; Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves.

New York went 0-for-2 on the power play and has failed on its past 36 attempts, tying the 2007 Anaheim Ducks for the League playoff record.

So much attention with the Penguins goes to Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who had two assists, but it's Jokinen who has a point in seven straight games and is tied for the playoff lead in goals.

Jokinen's goal at 7:02 of the third gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead and was an example of what happens when everything is going right for a player.

James Neal took the puck away from Marc Staal on the right side of the New York zone and dropped a pass to Jokinen. Zuccarello blocked Jokinen's attempted shot, but the Pittsburgh forward retrieved his rebound behind the net, came out the other side and threw a backhander into the slot that went off Staal's right skate and past Lundqvist.

"Obviously if you do that shot, you hope for a rebound or you have a guy there," Jokinen said. "Sometimes they can go in off their own guy. Good things happen when you throw pucks at the net."

That good feeling is something Jokinen didn't have much of a year ago. He was acquired by the Penguins at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline when they were hit by a rash of injuries and had 11 points in 10 regular-season games. But with a full complement of players for the postseason, Jokinen was a healthy scratch seven times in 15 playoff games.

"Unfortunately for Jussi last year, we ended up with 29 guys on our roster at the end of the year," Bylsma said. "We had injuries around the deadline that we wanted [him]. It was a very good add for our team to add [Jokinen] to our team. He didn't end up being the guy and playing the role in the playoffs for our team that maybe he could."

Jokinen felt he trained hard during the offseason and arrived in Pittsburgh with a positive mindset. He had 21 goals during the regular season and his strong play has carried over into the playoffs.

It's allowed Bylsma to use Crosby and Malkin on the same line for most of the postseason knowing his second line of Jokinen, Neal and Brandon Sutter can make big contributions.

"Brandon Sutter with Jussi and Neal is a pretty formidable line," Bylsma said. "Brandon has been solid defensively, solid in the [faceoff] circle. ... They're also a dangerous group [offensively]. They've got a 40-goal scorer and a 20-goal scorer. I think Brandon stepped in to that and made that into a formidable line and one you're comfortable with playing in every situation."

Sutter was at his best shorthanded with 1:33 left in the second period to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1. With Malkin in the penalty box for tripping, Ryan McDonagh dropped a pass for Rick Nash but Penguins forward Brian Gibbons read the play and attacked Nash in the New York end. Nash hurried a pass that Kris Letang got to in the neutral zone and sent back to Gibbons for a breakaway. Gibbons lost the puck in the crease, but Sutter beat McDonagh down the ice and knocked the puck into the net at 18:27.

Nash took the blame for the play, saying he should have made a better decision with the puck.

"It definitely gave them momentum," he said. "It's a play where maybe I can't try to make something out of nothing. I've just got to turn back and take my ice. It's a tough situation. I've got to be better."

Nash has gone 14 straight playoff games without a goal, despite leading the League with 45 shots on goal. He has two goals in 27 career playoff games, including one in 23 with the Rangers.

"Rick is trying real hard," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He had some real good looks. Obviously he feels a lot of pressure right now. He's battling real hard. Maybe we can rally around that and have a good game in Pittsburgh."

To do that the Rangers will need to find some offense somewhere.

The return of Chris Kreider for the first time since sustaining a hand injury March 24 didn't help; he started on the top line with Nash and Derek Stepan but had one shot in 15:28 of ice time.

The Rangers' 15 shots in Game 4 were the fewest they've had in a regular-season or playoff game since getting 14 shots April 28, 2012, against the Washington Capitals, the first game of the 2012 postseason.

To make matters worse, the Rangers had 25 giveaways.

"We didn't pick a good night to manage the puck the way we did," Vigneault said. "I don't want to take any credit away from Pittsburgh; they forced the play, they played a real solid game without the puck that forced us into a lot of those turnovers. Our puck management and our execution weren't very good and ultimately cost us the game."

It cost them on the game's first goal when Malkin knocked down an Anton Stralman clearing attempt outside the Rangers zone and then was on the receiving end of a return pass from Crosby that pinballed off Stralman and Staal 2:31 into the game.

Hagelin's goal 5:30 into the second tied the game. It snapped the Rangers' scoring drought at 145:30 and was their first since Derick Brassard's overtime goal in Game 1.

But the Rangers failed to generate any momentum, recording one shot on goal in a 21:17 span that carried into the first 6:47 of the third period.

Jokinen's goal made it 3-1, but the Rangers got one back on Zuccarello's goal at 13:07 of the third. The good feelings lasted 57 seconds; Malkin was first on the puck in New York's zone, muscled past McDonagh and found Kunitz wide open in front at 14:04.

"We weren't that sharp," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "For whatever reason, we didn't execute on much. I can't really tell you how good they played because we didn't test them and see where they were [Wednesday]. You know they're opportunistic, they're going to make plays, they did that. But we know we can play a lot better, that's the good thing. We're not sitting in here wondering what to do next after we threw everything at them. We haven't put a full 60 [minutes] together yet. It's got to happen. Why not Game 5?"

The Penguins also believe the Rangers have more to give, but their aim is to avoid a return trip to New York for Game 6.

"You get an opportunity to do it, you want to get it done," Crosby said of closing out the series in Game 5. "We came here, did a good job. We want to make the most of coming here and doing well and take advantage of the opportunity we have going home."


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