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Determined Rangers too much for undermanned Penguins

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Rangers put away Penguins in OT to win series

Carl Hagelin's overtime goal lifts the Rangers to a 4-1 series win over the Penguins.

NEW YORK -- Perhaps the most important three words that New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault uttered in the wake of his team's Game 5 series-clinching 2-1 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night:

"See you Monday."

With the breakneck speed of action and the unrelenting physical demands of playoff hockey, two days off must seem like an eternity to the Rangers.

They earned it.

In closing out their first-round series in expeditious fashion, downing the Pens in just five games, the Rangers afford themselves the luxury of rest heading into Round 2. And it's hard to imagine that this deep, structured Blueshirts squad will not be relishing their ice packs and heating pads as they watch the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders take a pound of flesh out of each other in Saturday's Game 5.

"The rest is definitely beneficial," defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's not something that our group is used to, so it's definitely a nice change of pace."

The Rangers might not be the most dominant of Presidents' Trophy winners -- each of the five games in this series was the difference of one goal -- but they were a focused, committed bunch in punching their ticket to the second round, where they will meet the winner of the Caps-Isles series.

They used their speed, they contained the Penguins' top players and they rarely deviated from the game plan.

It was not always exciting hockey, but it was effective. And Friday's win delivered enough of the drama to make up for whatever was lacking in the first half of the series.

"To experience a win in overtime in the playoffs, it's hard to find something better to experience," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the game with 37 saves. "The adrenaline and pressure you play under, the satisfaction when you see the puck go in -- it's just amazing."

The Rangers opened Game 5 with a strong first period, punctuated by a power-play goal on their first man-up opportunity. Even when they lost forward Mats Zuccarello to injury in the period -- he was struck in the head by a shot and forced from the game -- they put pressure on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and drove possession.

Fleury, by the way, was fantastic, holding the Penguins in the game before the Pens tied it up on Nick Spaling's deflection and for the remainder as well. He deserved a better fate. He was, irrefutably, the best Penguin on the ice Friday night, probably the team's top performer in the entire series.

He will not be blamed for this year's hasty postseason exit.

"He's been our best player all five games," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "Unbelievable."

But what turned into a veritable goaltending duel ended when speedy winger Carl Hagelin spun from the right circle and fired a shot at 10:52 of the overtime period, sealing the victory for the Rangers and sending the Penguins home somber and searching for answers.

It's no huge shock to see Hagelin shine, especially in extra time. His conditioning is so superb that he seems to only elevate his game when others are choking for air.

"You get to playoffs and he almost reaches another level," Staal said. "His speed, conditioning, you get into an overtime game like that and it looks like he's playing his first shift. It's impressive and he's been great for us every year going into the playoffs."

Hagelin said he could barely recall the goal-scoring sequence, he was so excited in the aftermath of celebration.

"No, I can't describe it. It's just goose bumps," he said, balancing the team's MVP Broadway hat atop his head. "One of the happiest moments of my life."

As a whole, the Rangers have to be pleased with the way they responded when tested during a stretch of tight hockey. The Penguins were without their top three defenseman, a fact that should not go overlooked, but any team that possesses the power tandem of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is one that should be respected, regardless of seeding.

Collectively, the Rangers contained both players, limiting Crosby to just a pair of goals and holding Malkin off the score sheet completely. Malkin's inability to produce was the more confounding situation, though he was certainly not without his chances, particularly in the final two games of the series.

It's no stretch to wonder if he was playing through injury, though he was stoic in the face of defeat.

"I want to say sorry to the fans, to my teammates," he told reporters. "I know I'm a leader on this team. Not so good game. I don't know."

Crosby seemed downtrodden by the team's decimated roster that was without top defensemen Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and veteran forward Pascal Dupuis. Those were huge voids that, from the sounds of it, the Pens were not quite capable of filling.

"Usually you go through a span of injuries and get through it and settle in," Crosby said. "But we went through it all year."

Penguins coach Mike Johnston was hesitant to reflect on the season as a whole. He still seemed stunned by the gravity of the loss, and what it might mean for the future. By the time he had made his way up to the podium, he said he had yet to address his team.

The players were talking among themselves after the loss, Johnston said, and he figured there would be plenty of time for his two cents in the following days.

"It's always frustrating," Johnston said, "but you look at the way your players played, and you can only ask so much of them."