NEW YORK -- Well, the New York Rangers can't use being tired as an excuse now. Nope, their inexcusable performance in Game 4 runs much deeper than fatigue or the disadvantage of jam-packed scheduling. Their stars didn't show up. Their power-play was atrocious and they let the Pittsburgh Penguins take it to them for a 4-2 win and a two-game series lead.
With the Penguins leading 3-1 in the series, the Rangers find themselves on the brink of elimination when they arrive in Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Friday.
Up 2-1 in the third period, Pittsburgh delivered the back-breaker in the third period when Jussi Jokinen backhanded an innocuous shot at the net that deflected in past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a two-goal lead. Though Mats Zuccarello pulled the Blueshirts back within a goal later in the frame, New York coughed it right back with a poor defensive play that left Chris Kunitz in front to reclaim a two-goal lead.
Seriously? And just when you think the Rangers’ power-play can’t get any worse, it does. On their third man-up opportunity of the night, the Rangers not only failed to convert, they surrendered a goal on the other end. Brian Gibbons raced in on a short-handed breakaway, losing control of the puck but drawing Lundqvist down regardless. Brandon Sutter swooped in to bury it for a 2-1 lead. The Rangers have now been blanked on 36 straight attempts.
Geno’s Game: Loaded up on a line with Crosby and Kunitz, star forward Evgeni Malkin imposed his will during the first period, cutting to the net with ease and putting pressure on the Rangers’ defense. He gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a tremendous skill play in which he put a spinning backhander past Lundqvist just 2:31 into play. Malkin, whose game was ignited by a hat trick in the team’s Game 6 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first round, leads the team with 11 postseason points (five goals, six assists). With a 1-0 lead, the Penguins dominated for much of the opening frame until a solid few shifts from the Rangers’ forecheckers allowed New York to push back with about six minutes remaining. Though the Blueshirts had extended offensive zone time, they had nothing to show for it. Rick Nash passed up a wide-open shot during that time, eschewing the best scoring opportunity of the sequence.
Depleted defense: Speaking of that shift, Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik was caught out on the ice for an exhausting 1:36 shift with the Rangers keeping the Pens’ hemmed into their own end. Orpik, who returned to the lineup after missing the past five games with an undisclosed injury, played only 42 seconds over two shifts after that and subsequently left the game. Orpik never returned to the Penguins bench after the first period, forcing the Penguins to play with just five defensemen for the remainder of the game.
Shutout snapped: After posting back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3, Marc-Andre Fleury had his streak snapped in the second period at 145:30 when Carl Hagelin darted up the ice to rip a shot past for a goal that knotted the teams 1-1. Hagelin’s goal helped spark the Rangers in the second period, which began much better than their opening frame but ended on a sour note on Sutter’s short-handed goal.