NEW YORK – Every team encounters some adversity in the playoffs.
The Penguins are certainly no strangers to it.
They experienced it Tuesday night in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series in New York.
The difference, though, is that the Penguins went through a tough time and still came out with a victory – 5-3 over the Rangers.
The Penguins seemed poised to win for the first time this season at Madison Square Garden right from the start as Marian Hossa found the back of the net 1:02 into the contest.
After a Martin Straka goal, the Penguins built their advantage to 3-1 to close the first period.
However, in the second frame, the Penguins hit a roadblock. They started taking penalties and were faced with a pair of 5-on-3 situations early on. Somehow, as their penalty killers have done all series, the Penguins were able to escape without yielding a power-play goal.
Yet, perhaps those chances were enough to spark the Rangers. They scored twice in a 1:04 span to tie the game with 6:49 left to play in the second.
“We got a great start – better than I was expecting,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “We kind of lost our focus in the second and were undisciplined and gave them a lot of life. The guys on the penalty killing did a great job again. They sacrificed their bodies to block shots. You have to give those guys a lot of credit. Even though we still killed those penalties, we gave life, especially on the road, to the home team. We really reacted well in the third.”
The Penguins responded late in the second period as they turned the tide and used a Rangers penalty to springboard themselves into the lead. Ryan Hollweg was whistled for boarding with 5:04 left on the clock and Evgeni Malkin rifled a puck past Henrik Lundqvist with 2:07 to play to give the Penguins a 4-3 lead heading into intermission.
“I don’t think that was our best game. The second period there, we got really sloppy and we stopped playing our game. That was one of our worst periods in a long time,” Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. “I thought we did a good job coming back from that. We got a big power-play goal from Geno at the end and we kind of regrouped and refocused after the second and came back hard in the third there.”
Malone led the charge in the third as he redirected a shot past Lundqvist 2:30 into the period to give the Penguins a commanding 5-3 lead.
“Geno has been huge for us all year and that goal was really timely because they really had us back on our heels there. They were playing really well and the crowd was starting to get into it, too. When Geno scored that goal and even Malone’s goal was huge, too, coming out there early on in the third. The building got pretty quiet there after that goal,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “We were still pretty confident after the second period. We knew it was the worst period we’ve played in the playoffs. We were lucky to still be up by a goal. But, you have to find ways to win and battle through stuff like that. I thought in the third period we played really well and came together.”
The Penguins pushed their playoff record to 7-0. They are the 11th team in NHL history to win their first seven playoff games (the last team to do it was the 1994 Rangers). Of the previous 10 teams to do it, eight have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
“When you get to the playoffs, the games are tough. We’re not thinking about winning the first seven games. We’re taking it game by game,” Therrien said. “What we did before is in the past and we learned from it. I think we’ll learn from that second period and make sure we’ll be better next game.”
Orpik said the Penguins aren’t focused on their perfect record – just winning each game as it comes.
“Maybe it’s a little surprising. We really haven’t talked about it much. There’s a quiet sense of confidence in our dressing room, but no one really gets too far ahead of themselves. We approach every game just trying to win period by period. No one has really mentioned that and I don’t think it’s a big deal to us,” he said. “We knew coming into this building, it was definitely going to be even tougher than the first few games. This was definitely the toughest challenge we’ve had so far. We were a pretty confident group coming in here. I definitely think this team has a quiet confidence; it’s definitely not cockiness or arrogance. We’ve come back from a lot of deficits and I think every remains pretty composed and pretty confident.”
Still, the team knows Game 4 Thursday night is not exactly going to be an easy night in New York.
“Game 4 is going to be the hardest game – we know that. It was a big challenge [Tuesday night] and, top to bottom, everyone put their hearts in it and that’s all you can ask for,” Malone said. “No one was happy with the way we played in the second, but in the third, everyone bought into it and played hard and smart and made sure we won our battles.”