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Five keys for Rangers vs. Penguins, Game 3

Goalie situation unclear for Pittsburgh; neutral zone pivotal

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 3 of their Eastern Conference First Round Series on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, MSG). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

Here are five keys for Game 3:

1. Who plays makes a difference: The only thing we know for sure now is Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will miss his third game of the series with a concussion. There are, however, significant lineup questions for both teams heading into Game 3.

Will Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff return to the net for a third straight game after allowing four goals on 28 shots in Game 2, or will rookie Matt Murray get the start? Murray has been out with an upper-body injury, but was a full participant in the morning skate Tuesday.

If Murray plays, he'd be making his NHL playoff debut.

"Matt Murray is an option for us tonight," coach Mike Sullivan said.

Will Rangers defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh play for the first time in the series? He has missed the first two games of the series and five straight overall with a right hand injury, but was scheduled to meet with the team doctors in the afternoon to determine his availability.

"I said doubtful [on Monday]," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Now it's a little higher."

If McDonagh plays, it's likely Dylan McIlrath would come out of the lineup after making his NHL playoff debut in Game 2. If McDonagh is not able to play, would recent American Hockey League call-up Raphael Diaz play or would McIlrath stay in the lineup?

"I'm looking at all my options right now," Vigneault said.

They all matter.

Video: Lundqvist, offense shine as Rangers even series at 1

2. Malkin's usage: It appears Sullivan will start Game 3 with Evgeni Malkin centering a line with Eric Fehr on the right wing and Connor Sheary on the left wing. That leaves Sidney Crosby between Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist, and Nick Bonino centering Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin.

Malkin's return to the lineup in Game 2 was welcomed, but presented issues for Sullivan; he tried to figure out how to most effectively use the big, skilled scoring center. Sullivan moved Malkin and some other forwards around, and used Malkin with Crosby quite a bit, too.

Sullivan said the aim in Game 3 is to have more continuity with the lines.

"We had some new players coming back into the lineup and sometimes when that happens, there is an inevitable adjustment process," Sullivan said. "There is a fine line between that adjustment process and establishing some continuity for the players. We'll try to find that balance."

3. Win the neutral zone: As is the case with most games, the team that owns the neutral zone will have a better chance of winning Game 3.

For the Penguins to do that, defensively they have to stand up the Rangers in the area and not let them get pucks behind the defense, because when that happened in Game 2, New York's aggressive forecheck went to work on Pittsburgh's defensemen. The Rangers were credited with 57 hits, including 25 on the Penguins' D-men. From an offensive perspective, it means the Penguins have to play more of a straight up and down game when they have the puck.

"I thought we played a little too much east-west [in Game 2], especially coming through the neutral zone, and it slowed our game down a little bit," Sullivan said. "When we're at our best, we play that north-south fast game."

For the Rangers, it means taking care of the puck when they have it and clogging the middle of the ice when they don't, just as they did in Game 2.

"I thought we did a good job with forwards coming back, filling up the middle of the ice, taking that time and space away," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "We'll try to clog it up again."

4. Secondary scoring: Neither team has had much secondary scoring in the series. It could make a difference in Game 3.

Of the 13 goals scored, 11 have come from top-six forwards. Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl scored a shorthanded goal in Game 1, and Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle scored a 5-on-5 goal in Game 2.

"Knowing the history of the League, it seems like the team that wins it all has a third- or fourth-line that is absolutely on fire at some point in the playoffs," Fehr said. "We definitely have the personnel to have that. We feel pretty confident that any line can contribute."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Yandle buries loose puck, evens game

5. Rangers ability to keep it 5-on-5: The Rangers feel confident in their ability to contain the Penguins at even strength. It's when they give Pittsburgh power plays that their heads start spinning and the puck ends up in the back of the net.

New York has outscored the Penguins 5-2 at 5-on-5, but the Penguins are 3-for-10 on the power play. The Rangers have to keep this a 5-on-5 game if they plan on taking a 2-1 lead in the series.

"They don't need a lot of looks to hurt you," Staal said. "You can do a great job for a minute and 58 seconds on the penalty kill and they can still find a way to hurt you. Our biggest key there is staying out of the box, staying disciplined, limit their opportunities."

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