Game 4: PENGUINS at RANGERS
Eastern Conference First Round
Penguins lead best-of-7 series 2-1
TV: 7 p.m. ET; CNBC, TVA Sports, SN, MSG, ROOT
NEW YORK -- It hasn't been a seamless transition for Evgeni Malkin, who returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup on Saturday after missing more than a month with a shoulder injury.
Though he has a power-play assist in each of his two games in the Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers, Malkin struggled and had trouble adjusting to new linemates.
Malkin was a minus-1, played 13:30 in Game 3 and was benched for the final 5:27 of the game. It was the least ice time he has had in a playoff game since he played 12:46 in a 4-3 win against the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal in 2007.
But Malkin is hoping being paired with the same players he was with Tuesday will make things easier in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, when Pittsburgh looks to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
"I feel stronger every day," Malkin said.
The Penguins were 14-2-0, including the playoffs, without Malkin. He played with Sheary and Bryan Rust to start Game 2, but also played with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and finished the game with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel.
Malkin began Game 3 on a line with Eric Fehr and Conor Sheary. Midway through the game, he was playing with Fehr and Kunitz.
"I just came back and played a few games and changed a couple of linemates, but now I think the last game we played together and tonight we will play together again," Malkin said. "I have more confidence right now. I just have to play my game with [Chris Kunitz] and [Eric Fehr].
Goaltender Matt Murray, who made 16 saves in Game 3, will start for the Penguins. No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, out with a concussion, remains day-to-day.
"When he is ready to play," coach Mike Sullivan said, "we'll let you know."
The Rangers will be looking for a fast start in front of their home fans. Forward Rick Nash, who scored shorthanded for New York's only goal in Game 3, said they need to score the first goal to set the tone early.
"You always want to play with the lead," Nash said. "It's important, but momentum swings in playoff hockey, you've got to know how to play when you are down, too, and we didn't do a great job of that. We have to create a little more offense and make it harder on their goalie."
The Rangers have lost their past four home playoff games by a combined score of 13-3.
"I didn't know that until you brought it up now that that was the case," Nash said, "but when you put it that way, you definitely want to create more offense at home for sure."
Penguins forward Carl Hagelin is expecting more intensity from the Rangers.
"We know they are going to play one of their best games of the series, that's for sure," he said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Eric Fehr
Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl - Matt Cullen - Bryan Rust
Olli Maatta - Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin - Trevor Daley
Ian Cole - Ben Lovejoy
Injured: Kevin Porter (ankle surgery), Scott Wilson (lower body), Beau Bennett (undisclosed), Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion)
Scratched: Derrick Pouliot, Justin Schultz, Oskar Sundqvist, Tristan Jarry
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
J.T. Miller - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash
Eric Staal - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Viktor Stalberg
Marc Staal - Kevin Klein
Ryan McDonagh - Brady Skjei
Keith Yandle - Dan Boyle
Injured: Dan Girardi (undisclosed)
Scratched: Dylan McIlrath, Kevin Hayes, Raphael Diaz, Marek Hrivik, Magnus Hellberg, Chris Brown, Nicklas Jensen, Jayson Megna, Daniel Paille, Mat Bodie, Ryan Graves, Chris Summers
Status report: Vigneault said Girardi is day-to-day and wouldn't speculate on his status for the remainder of the series. ... Vigneault said there would possibly be lineup changes on both offense and defense, but wouldn't go into specifics. ... The Penguins likely will use the same lineup they did in Game 3.
Who's hot: Letang had a goal in Game 3 and has a point in 10 of 11 games. ... Nash, Stepan and Miller each have three points in three games for the Rangers.