Going into Game 5, the Penguins, up 3-1 in their second-round playoff series, spoke of the need to play with the same kind of desperation as the New York Rangers surely would with their backs against the wall.
The Rangers – fighting for their playoff lives and rallying around teammate Marty St. Louis, who decided to play following the unexpected death of his 63-year-old mother – pounced on the Penguins early and often to earn a 5-1 win and send the series back to Madison Square Garden Sunday.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi. “I thought they came out like a team whose season was on the brink. We came out like a team who had an automatic bid to the next round.”
“It was pretty apparent at the start that they were more desperate,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “They were winning battles, winning races, and ended up getting the lead.
“We knew they were going to be hungry, and we didn’t even come close to matching the desperation that we needed.”
The Rangers built a 2-0 lead in the first period, outshooting the Penguins 17-9 in the frame – two more than New York managed in the entirety of Game 4 – and finally breaking their 0-for-36 drought on the power play.
“They just kept throwing at the net,” Scuderi said. “Good shots, bad shots; there’s really not a bad one on the power play. Every time they threw a puck to the net, they had a guy in front; they had traffic. It’s tough to play against as a goaltender and as penalty killers.”
By the end of the night, the Rangers would score on the power play a second time, shut down the Penguins in each of their four opportunities with the man-advantage and, with five goals on the night, including an empty-netter, match their offensive output for the previous four games combined.
“We definitely expected their very best off the hop. They came really hard, really aggressive down the walls and we turned over a few pucks as a result, [which] led to their offensive zone-time,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “But, in addition to that, we had some unforced errors.
“We shot a puck over the glass [for a delay-of-game penalty] with not a lot of pressure, we had an unforced icing that led to a goal, we had a bad change that leads to a [too many men] power play and another goal. In addition to them playing their hardest and their best, we … gave them their opportunities. The first four goals, we had a hand in.”
The Penguins weren’t without opportunities of their own.
Star center Evgeni Malkin, who scored a hat trick to help eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one, again came to play in the potential closing game of a series. He scored the Penguins’ lone goal, a highlight-reel stunner where he split defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi while driving for the net, put a shot on goal, then collected the rebound and shot again from the side of the net to beat a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist.
The energy at CONSOL Energy Center soared after the goal, but the Penguins couldn’t capitalize on the momentum.
“We had the next three scoring chances, we had the next four shots, and I thought we were pushing right there,” Bylsma said. “And, again, we had a bit of an unforced error, a poor change … we had some opportunities, but they were able to stem the tide.”
Perhaps most critically, the Rangers were able to prevent the Penguins from getting any late-period momentum, shutting down a Pittsburgh power play to end the first, when the Penguins trailed 2-0, and killing off a two-man advantage for 1:23 to end the second, when Pittsburgh was down 4-1.
“The five-on-three is a huge opportunity for us,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think we’ve attacked or shot enough on our power play. The five-on-three, we needed to get [a goal] there and maybe even a second one. We had some looks and chances [but] missed the net with a shot, hit our own man with a shot, and didn’t capitalize.”
Now the Penguins head back to New York for a situation in which they might be able to call upon some genuine desperation – the desire to avoid coming back to Pittsburgh for a winner-take-all, anything-can-happen Game 7.
“I don’t think there’s much good to take from [Game 5],” Crosby said. “We’ve got to make sure that we come with the right mindset going to New York. Whatever mindset we were in tonight, it wasn’t enough.”