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3 Keys: Penguins at Rangers, Game 5 of Eastern First Round

Pittsburgh looks to maintain pressure, advance; New York must improve defense to extend series

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

(3M) Penguins at (2M) Rangers

7 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, SN, TVAS, MSG, ATTSN-PT

Pittsburgh leads best-of-7 series 3-1

The New York Rangers return home after two road losses facing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a must-win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers lost three games in a row twice this season, from Nov. 2-6 (0-1-2) and from April 23-27 (0-3-0), which was after they clinched a playoff berth.

"I'm certainly really confident in our group," New York center Ryan Strome said. "We've been pretty resilient all year with this group of guys."

The Penguins outscored the Rangers 14-6 in winning Games 3 and 4 at PPG Paints Arena. Igor Shesterkin, who on Tuesday was named one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, voted as the best goalie in the NHL during the regular season, was pulled from each game.

Shesterkin played the first period in Game 3 and allowed four goals on 15 shots in a 7-4 loss. He played the first two periods of Game 4, when he allowed six goals on 30 shots in a 7-2 loss. 

 

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

New York is 2-18 when down 3-1 in a best-of-7 series. 

Pittsburgh is 15-3 when leading 3-1 entering Game 5 in a best-of-7 series. The Penguins have not won a playoff series since the first round in 2018, when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. That's also the last time the Penguins have been in position to eliminate a team.

"We've got to bring a certain level of urgency to the table that helps us be at our best," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "We know that we're going to face a team that we expect to get their best and they're a good team. They've been a good team all year. They've got a dynamic offense. They're well-coached. They're a good team in every sense of the word. We expect to get their best and we're going to bring our best."

Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 series are 296-30 (.908), including 5-1 in the 2021 playoffs.

Here are 3 keys to Game 5:

1. Penguins maintaining pressure

Pittsburgh is in control in the series because it has been taking care of the puck, pressuring all over the ice, and playing in the offensive zone, aided by winning 59.6 percent of the face-offs in Games 3 and 4 (62 of 104).

It's a credit to the Penguins' pressure that the Rangers have unraveled defensively, leading to odd-man rushes, backdoor plays available at the far post and openings in the slot that have led to goals off deflections and screens.

"We're just trying to play on our toes, play in their face, and when opportunities present themselves try to make quick and hard plays," Penguins forward Bryan Rust said. "The ability to play fast with and without the puck have put us in some pretty good situations."

2. Dee-fense

Pittsburgh has excelled, but New York simply has not defended well, particularly the past two games. The structure it employed during the last six weeks of the regular season, including three wins against the Penguins from March 25-April 7, when they allowed a combined three goals, has eroded.

To start a comeback, the Rangers have to start by defending better and maintaining puck possession more. 

"All year we've just tried to emphasize playing our game and [Monday] we didn't do any of our game," Strome said. "We've got to play 60 good minutes. We've got to keep the game simple. We've got to play hard. It's the things that we can control. It's not like we're being asked to do anything we can't do."

The Rangers could receive a boost if Ryan Lindgren plays. The defenseman will be a game-time decision after missing the past three games with a lower-body injury.

3. Shesterkin's resiliency

Prior to Game 4, Shesterkin never had been pulled in consecutive games. He was pulled from two games for performance during the regular season. 

But Shesterkin can fall back on how he played in Games 1 and 2 at home, when he allowed six goals on 124 shots (.952 save percentage).

If he plays like that, New York will have a legitimate chance to push this series back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Friday. 

Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sidney Crosby -- Bryan Rust

Danton Heinen -- Evgeni Malkin -- Kasperi Kapanen

Jason Zucker -- Jeff Carter -- Brock McGinn

Brian Boyle -- Teddy Blueger -- Evan Rodrigues

Mike Matheson -- Kris Letang

Mark Friedman -- Chad Ruhwedel

Marcus Pettersson -- John Marino

Louis Domingue

Alex D'Orio

Scratched: Nathan Beaulieu, Drew O'Connor

Injured: Tristan Jarry (lower body), Rickard Rakell (undisclosed), Casey DeSmith (core muscle surgery), Brian Dumoulin (lower body)

Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Mika Zibanejad -- Frank Vatrano

Artemi Panarin -- Ryan Strome -- Andrew Copp

Alexis Lafreniere -- Filip Chytil -- Kaapo Kakko

Jonny Brodzinski -- Kevin Rooney -- Ryan Reaves

K'Andre Miller -- Jacob Trouba

Justin Braun -- Adam Fox

Patrik Nemeth -- Braden Schneider

Igor Shesterkin

Alexandar Georgiev

Scratched: Libor Hajek, Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier, Dryden Hunt

Injured: Tyler Motte (upper body), Barclay Goodrow (lower body), Ryan Lindgren (lower body)

Status report

Jarry skated before and during the Penguins optional morning skate Wednesday but will not play. The goalie previously only had skated with a Pittsburgh skills coach prior to practices since his injury April 14. Sullivan said Jarry "made a big jump today just as far as his progression in his return to play." … Rakell, who has not played since Game 1, also took part in the optional skate and the forward remains day to day. … Dumoulin, who hasn't played since Game 1, has not skated yet but the defenseman is progressing off the ice, Sullivan said. … Lindgren will take part in warmups. Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said if he plays, New York could dress seven defensemen.

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