Up 3-1 in their second-round series with a chance to clinch, the Penguins didn’t match the New York Rangers’ desperation in Game 5. The result was a 5-1 Rangers win and a needed Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
The Penguins acknowledged they didn’t play with the same intensity as the Rangers in Game 5 and would work to correct that in Game 6.
However, the Rangers once again demonstrated the will to survive against the Penguins in Game 6 en route to a 3-1 win that has forced a do-or-die Game 7 Tuesday night in Pittsburgh (tickets on sale now
“It’s pretty clear, we didn’t show up,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
New York set the tone in the first period, outshooting the Penguins 12-2 and scoring two goals in the opening 6:25 minutes. Though the Penguins would fight back and even the play for the rest of the game, Pittsburgh never dug themselves out of the early hole.
“The last two games our starts have hurt us, again tonight,” Crosby said. “We knew it was something we had to improve and we didn’t. We paid the price for it. Hopefully, next game we learn those lessons.”
Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard scored for New York. Brandon Sutter scored the Penguins’ lone goal. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves for the Penguins, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 for New York.
The series now comes to one game. A 60-minute battle (at least) for the right to play in the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins will have to find a way to turn the page on the last two games and put it all on the line Tuesday night. Because there is no tomorrow.
“All Game 7s are big,” Crosby said. “We can’t change what has gotten us to this point. All we can do is make sure we show up for Game 7.”FIRST PERIOD
In the first round against Columbus, the Pens responded to win every game in which their opponent scored first. Unfortunately for them, that trend hasn’t carried over into the second round against New York as they’ve lost all three games in which the Rangers have opened the scoring.
Just like the Pens did in Game 5, in Game 6 they again dug themselves into an early 2-0 hole they couldn’t climb out of. The Rangers again came at the Penguins with everything they had, and Pittsburgh didn’t have an answer for it. And so the Rangers built that 2-0 lead on goals from St. Louis and Hagelin to go along with a 12-2 advantage in shots within the first few minutes of play.
"We put ourselves in a bad position early on," Crosby said. "We fought hard and tried to get back, but you can't continue to do that in the playoffs. You can't start like that."
But the positive is that the Pens started turning the momentum in their favor earlier than they did on Friday, during New York’s first power play of the game nine minutes into the period. The Pens kept the Rangers off the board, thanks in large part to a spectacular stop by Fleury on Chris Kreider all alone in front of the net.
From there, the Pens tilted the ice. They started getting pucks to the net and were rewarded when Sutter’s shot from the halfwall deflected off Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein and into the net to make it a game again.
“I think once we got down, you really saw how hard we can push,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We were really trying to be aggressive. Just pressured them all over the ice. We got zone time and some chances because of it. Couple power plays because of it. Try to do more of that. We’re going to need to in Game 7.”POWER PLAY STRUGGLES CONTINUE
The Pens have scored just once on the power play in this series, on their fourth and final opportunity in Game 2. With their four missed chances on Sunday night, the Pens are now 0-for-12 since then.
They had a huge opportunity 13:05 into the second period, when Mats Zuccarello took an ill-advised offensive-zone penalty when he clipped Rob Scuderi in the back of the leg from behind and tripped him up. The Pens, down just one goal at that point, had a crucial chance to tie the score with plenty of time to play and make this a totally different game.
Well, not only did the Pens fail to take advantage of that opportunity, but just 25 seconds after Zuccarello was released from the penalty box, the Rangers went the other way and Brassard netted his third goal in the last two games to give his team a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.
“It was just bouncing,” Fleury said of the goal. “I tried to bring it in to freeze it, but it bounced over my stick and then bounced to their guy over me. Just a bit of a scramble.”
The Pens had been using a two-defensemen alignment since the first round, but switched to a four-forward, one defenseman rotation. That meant James Neal was back on the first unit with Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Niskanen serving as the only defenseman.
“The first one tonight, we did some really good things,” Niskanen said. “Had a lot of movement. Had some shots, recovered them. When you have ‘Kuni’ standing in front like that and have motion and guys shooting, we’re doing the right things. The next couple weren’t as clean. We didn’t enter the zone quite as clean. They started pressuring a little bit more. The bottom line is, it comes down to results.”TOO MANY PENALTIES
Discipline was a problem for the Pens in this game, as they gave the Rangers six power-play opportunities in this game – three of them coming in the third period.
That can’t happen when a team is trying to come back from a two-goal deficit in an elimination game. It kept Pittsburgh's big offensive talents stuck on the bench and taxed their penalty killers and goaltender. And while the Pens actually created some of their best offensive chances of the game shorthanded, thanks in large part to Brian Gibbons and his speed, playing a man down is just not conducive to staging a comeback.
But a positive to take out of the situation is the way Pittsburgh’s penalty killers played. They were aggressive and had the Rangers back on their heels for stretches, and ended up with a couple of breakaway chances as the result of their hard work.
Marcel Goc had the closest chance as he came within centimeters of finding the back of the net in the second period, when he deked backhand on Lundqvist and flipped a high backhand that the netminder just barely caught with his glove to knock it high.
“Our penalty killers did a great job. Gave us momentum, I think,” Niskanen said. “We had two shorthanded breakaways and a couple other rushes where they didn’t amount to anything, but we were pushing them that way. That gave us momentum, which could have really swung the game if we could have buried one of those. Lundqvist made a couple nice saves to keep the score the way it was. Good job by the penalty kill. We’re going to need that again.”