By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
Sure, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin may have scored the game-winner, and Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury registered the win with 36 saves. But make no mistake, Pittsburgh's special teams won Tuesday night's game against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
Coming into this second-round series, which the Penguins now have a 3-0 stranglehold on as they defeated the Rangers 5-3, some questioned Pitt's defensive capabilities, wondered if a team with so many scoring threats, so much offensive power, could take care of its own end. But in their last two games, the Pens have effectively answered that question, proving they can shut it down as well as any team in the league. Their penalty kill did just that -- they played almost nine minutes shorthanded without letting anything through -- and their power play unit just can't miss.
Even though New York put up 39 shots on goal, not a whole lot of them were second chances. "Guys have been amazing blocking shots, diving in front of pucks and taking rebounds away," a grateful Fleury said after the game. Defenseman Rob Scuderi, for example, who logged 4:37 shorthanded, intercepted six of Pittsburgh's 17 blocked shots.
Twice in the game, New York found itself with basically a wide-open net after a Fleury save took the goalie out of position. And twice the Rangers couldn't connect, as Pittsburgh's defensemen were effective in clearing the puck out into the corners to avoid giving New York any easy looks off of Fleury.
As for the Penguins' power play? Two shots on goal, two goals -- both just exploded off of Malkin's stick and whizzed right by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, who had allowed more than four goals in a playoff game just twice before last Friday, surrendered five goals for the second time this series, facing just 17 shots on net in Game 3. "The power play goals, I never picked up," Lundqvist said. "It was a game where I had to battle right from the get-go."
Just one win away from dismissing the Rangers, one win away from the Eastern Conference final, the Penguins don't really care who gets credit for the win; just as long as it comes.
- The Penguins are now 7-0 in this postseason, a feat last achieved by none other than the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers in 1994. And before that, the '89 Montreal Canadiens. The last team to go undefeated longer was the 1985 Edmonton Oilers, who went 9-0 before losing to Chicago in Game 3 of the Conference Finals. In '85, Wayne Gretzky set records for most assists (30) and points (47); the points record still stands, while he broke his assist mark three years later with 31.
- The turning point -- according to Rangers coach Tom Renney, Lundqvist and just about everyone in MSG -- in Tuesday's game was undoubtedly Rangers winger Ryan Hollweg's boarding penalty at 15:56 in the second period. The forward delivered a blindsided check on Petr Sykora, who went head-first into the boards. With just three seconds left on the power play, though, Crosby faked a shot and passed the puck across to Malkin who took just a second to place the puck just so and then wound up and launched the winner into the net.
- The regular-season Rangers power play rears its ugly -- and I mean really ugly -- head again. Two 5-on-3 opportunities, totalling 1:14 with a two-man advantage, and they get three shots and no goals. After going 4-for-17 on the power play against the Devils in the first round, New York has certainly taken a step back. Against Pittsburgh, the Rangers are 1-for-14. "Maybe the pressure is getting to us a little bit," Jaromir Jagr said. "We know we have to score. That was the difference."
- Jagr was indeed a shining star in Game 3, though. With 10 shots on goal, the Rangers' captain was certainly electric. At times, it seemed like he was the only Blueshirt on the ice, and it was hard to take your eyes off the winger when he handled the puck like it was attached to the blade of his stick. His goal tied the game at three apiece, and made MSG shake in celebration.
- The win for the Penguins is the first at MSG they've had all season.
- Georges Laraque's goal was his first in the playoffs since 2006, when he was with Edmonton, and with it, every Pittsburgh forward except for 21-year-old rookie Tyler Kennedy has scored a goal in these playoffs. "We're playing four lines because that's how you win in the playoffs," Laraque said.
- Hart Trophy finalist Evgeni Malkin continues his tear through the 2008 postseason. With two goals and one assist, the center logged three points for the third time and squeezed by Sidney Crosby for the Penguins' point lead with 13. He's had a point in every playoff game but one.
- Down 5-3 in the third period, the Rangers didn't play like they needed this game, which many players said was a "must-win" earlier today. Yes, they put up 39 shots on goal, but for the last eight and a half minutes, they didn't put a shot on Fleury. There just was no sense of urgency from the Blueshirts. Maybe the Penguins' fifth goal really sucked the wind out of their sails, as center Scott Gomez said. They may be saying they won't give up, but if that last half period is any indication, it looks like they might already have...
- Speaking of which, Jagr half-jokingly said about Thursday's Game 4: "It might be my last game. Let's make it special." How cryptic... and a little defeatist, no? Well, considering New York has never come out of a 0-3 series hole, maybe not.