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Special teams stand out for Penguins

Pittsburgh holds 2-1 lead, won't have Fleury against Rangers in Game 4

by Mike G. Morreale @MikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan knows winning the special-teams battle is a recipe for success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Penguins have done that against the New York Rangers through three games of the Eastern Conference First Round.

Sullivan went so far as to say that the power-play goal by Sidney Crosby with 42 seconds left in the second period of Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday was the biggest goal of the series. The tying goal sparked the Penguins to a 3-1 win and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Game 4 is at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, TVA Sports, SN, ROOT, MSG).

"I think our zone entries have been pretty good (on the power play); we've had sufficient zone time," Sullivan said. "The Rangers have a high-pressure penalty kill and they put pressure on guys to have to make plays. I think our guys have done a good job with supporting the puck and trying to get the puck to the net.

"The power play in the last handful of games has scored some big goals for us."

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

The Penguins are 4-for-13 on the power play and 11-for-12 on the penalty kill in the series.

"I think we have a lot of skill guys out there and it's clicking right now," Penguins right wing Phil Kessel said.

Kessel had the primary assist on Crosby's goal with a backdoor pass to pull the Penguins into a 1-1 tie.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who works the point with defenseman Kris Letang on the first power-play unit, said he feels the key is finding a way to get pucks through on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"We have to use our skills; we have five good players out there so we just need to play right," Malkin said. "We need to shoot more because the Rangers are good at blocking shots. You have to find a way to get the puck between their legs or past them."

Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin, who plays on the penalty kill, said playing fast will make any team uncomfortable when trying to set up on the power play.  

"It's important to stay humble and aggressive," Hagelin said. "All it takes for them is to have one good power play shift and they'll score one. We try not to think too much about it, but our aggressiveness is the key."

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), who did not practice Wednesday, will likely miss his 10th straight game, including his fourth of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fleury practiced Monday and remained off the ice during an optional morning skate Tuesday. Sullivan said he is day-to-day.

Rookie goalie Matt Murray made 16 saves in his first Stanley Cup Playoff start in Game 3. His win came less than a week after teammate Jeff Zatkoff won his playoff debut in Game 1 in Pittsburgh and lost Game 2. Pittsburgh is the first team in NHL history to have two goaltenders win his playoff debut in the same series.

"I expect the Rangers to throw more shots on me the next game if I do play," Murray said. "I'm sure that'll be a point of emphasis for their team, so I would expect a little more."

One lineup switch Sullivan made at practice was moving left wing Conor Sheary with Crosby and right wing Patric Hornqvist. Left wing Chris Kunitz, who had been on the top line, played with center Malkin and right wing Eric Fehr.

"[Sheary and Kuntiz] are two different types of players and they each bring something to the line they're on," Sullivan said. "We jockey those guys and move them back and forth based on what we see and how the lines are playing out. They both have played a fair amount with Crosby and Malkin, so it's an easy, seamless tweak for us. It just gives us another option."

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