Not tonight. Not in their building. Maybe not ever, they hope.
Facing elimination Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers rode big performances by their Hall of Fame captain and star goalie to a Ranger-esque 3-0 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
The road is still quite bumpy considering New York again will face elimination in Game 5 on Sunday in Pittsburgh and potentially again in Game 6 back in Madison Square Garden on Monday — should they get there.
For now, the fact that there’s going to be a Game 5 is enough for them. It’s a start, which is all these Rangers were looking for. That it took them until Game 4 only means this chapter of their 2007-08 season has a chance to be historic.
Only two NHL teams, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders — against Pittsburgh — have come back to win a series after losing the first three games. Those remarkable feats occurred 33 years apart; do the math and you’ll notice it’s been 33 years since the Islanders did it. The Rangers and San Jose Sharks still have a chance to do it this season.
“It’s too bad we got into a tough situation, but you just never know,” said Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, who was involved in all three goals, scoring two of them. “Why is that happening? You just never know and you shouldn’t ask. Maybe it’s happening for a reason to be down 3-0. You never know. That’s why we should just play and see what happens.”
Game 4 was the type of game the Rangers were hoping to play all series.
They coughed up a 3-0 lead in Game 1, got caught up in a track meet and eventually lost 5-4. They got back to their defensive principles in Game 2, but didn’t generate any offense and were blanked 2-0. They played from behind in Game 3, which meant they sacrificed some defense in order to get back into a game they eventually lost 5-3.
But in Game 4, the Rangers had perfect balance — and they played a near-perfect game against the previously perfect Penguins, who lost for the first time in eight playoff games. New York got superb goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 29 saves, a lot of them sterling. Jagr had another remarkable game. Their penalty-killers shut out the Penguins’ dangerous power play for the first time in the series, holding Pittsburgh scoreless in four tries.
They did it all without the services of Sean Avery (lacerated spleen) and Blair Betts (broken cheekbone). Also, Chris Drury was limited due to a rib cage injury.
“This is their first loss in the playoffs, so hopefully we got them thinking a little bit,” Lundqvist said. “The special teams were the difference, and I think it’s been the difference every game. We have to play a good special-teams game to have a chance.”
Jagr gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 12:45 into the second period when his shot from the slot zipped through the legs of Sergei Gonchar and beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who faced 33 shots and stopped 31.
Jagr took a shot to the head from Brooks Orpik an instant after the puck passed Fleury. He was shaken, but skated off the ice on his own — to a thunderous roar from the approving sellout crowd. Jagr, who heard his name chanted all night long, didn’t miss a shift, and made light of Orpik’s hit afterwards.
“I couldn’t celebrate it,” Jagr said of his fourth postseason goal. “I was thinking about ‘Jerry Maguire,’ when he danced. I wanted to start dancing, but I just couldn’t do it. I was just thinking about it. That would have been funny.”
Lundqvist made the 1-0 lead stand up when he stoned Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot with 2:07 remaining in the period. After a video review ruled no goal on Malkin’s initial breakaway, the Hart Trophy candidate skated in deliberately before making a move and taking a quick shot. Lundqvist stayed tall, closed the gap, and twitched his glove at the last second. The puck fell harmlessly to the ice — and the Rangers still had their 1-0 lead.
“When you make the first move a lot of the times you lose,” Lundqvist said. “He waited for me to drop, I think, and then go upstairs. I think I made it look easy, but it was kind of tricky when they come that close and he can snap it so fast. You just hope he can’t get the perfect shot.”
Jagr put his mark on the Rangers’ second goal 44 seconds into the third period with Petr Sykora in the penalty box for hooking. He sent the initial pass to Martin Straka, who helped pry the puck loose from behind the net into the slot, where Brandon Dubinsky stood. The Rangers’ rookie center wheeled around defenseman Rob Scuderi and beat Fleury low inside the right post.
The Penguins actually committed a startling 11 penalties totaling 38 minutes, including a pair of 10-minute misconduct calls on Malkin and Jarkko Ruutu, at the end of the game. Ruutu’s came after the final whistle.
It was the first sign of the Penguins losing their cool in the playoffs. They had allowed just 13 power plays and one man-advantage goal entering Game 4. The Rangers were 2-for-7 Thursday night, including Jagr’s empty-net goal with 13.6 seconds left.
“We knew they were going to come hard and they did,” Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. “I don’t think we were ready for that.”
The Rangers are hoping they’ve cracked the seemingly unbreakable Penguins, including Sidney Crosby and Malkin, who went to the box together with roughing penalties 13:32 into the third period.
If that’s the case, perhaps there will be a Game 6.
As Jagr emphatically stated, you never know.
“It’s up to us,” Jagr said. “They have a great team, no question about it — but so do we. We don’t have much room for error. We have to play perfect every game. That’s not easy, but anything is possible.”