The Pittsburgh Penguins jumped out to a 2-1 series lead after a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers Monday night in Madison Square Garden.
Despite having 20 more shots on the night, the Rangers failed to score for the second game in a row. Say what you want about Marc-Andre Fleury, but he's picked up back-to-back playoff shutouts:
Fleury with back-to-back shutouts. The perks of having a “wall” Flower. pic.twitter.com/anaN18oL9T— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 6, 2014
Sidney Crosby opened the scoring for Pittsburgh two-and-a-half minutes into the second period. A great pass from defenseman Robert Bortuzzo hit Crosby in stride, and from there, he only had Henrik Lundqvist to beat.
That was his first goal of the 2014 postseason, breaking a long playoff scoring drought, per SportsCenter:
SID THE KID SCORES! Sidney Crosby gets his first goal of the playoffs on a breakaway. Penguins lead Rangers, 1-0.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2014
Crosby now has 41 playoff goals, which ties him with Ray Bourque in the all-time standings, as noted by ESPN Stats and Info:
Sidney Crosby: 41st career playoff goal (ties him with among others, Ray Bourque, on the all-time list)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 6, 2014
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was doing a number on Crosby, at one point cross-checking him in the back of the head. As Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, the best thing the Penguins star could've done in retaliation was put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard:
THAT’S how you pay back a vicious, cowardly cheap shot with a stick to the back of the head. Crosby >> Staal.— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) May 6, 2014
Jussi Jokinen scored 15:20 into the second period to double the Penguins' lead. The forward had just exited the penalty box and was gifted an open lane to score after a giveaway by New York winger Mats Zuccarello.
Goals don't come much easier than that.
Jokinen has now registered a point in seven consecutive games:
JUSSI JOKINEN RIGHT OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX! That’s a 7-game point streak folks! #Pens lead 2-0.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 6, 2014
Of course, the Penguins' strategy of backing off and deploying a rear guard wouldn't have worked as well had Marc-Andre Fleury not pitched a shutout.
The veteran goaltender has come under plenty of criticism for his play in the postseason. Before Game 3, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma spoke about how Fleury tries to put that out of his mind when the game begins, per Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger:
"He gets a lot of practice," Bylsma said. "Right now it's from a lot of practice. Questions have been asked for a hundred days in a row, so he knows the answer only comes on the ice and winning hockey games. So he's had a lot of practice."
Fleury made all of the key saves, and when the time called for it, he prayed to the hockey gods so that the puck would carom just right off of the bar. There's no question that both the Penguins and their goaltender got lucky when a shot from Zuccarello somehow avoided crossing the goal line at 12:01 of the second.
Sometimes, though, you got to ride your luck. Every Stanley Cup champion has gotten a few lucky bounces here and there en route to a title.
Regardless, David Todd of 970 ESPN Radio in Pittsburgh thought that Fleury looked composed between the pipes:
Fleury continues to look so confident. So well positioned.— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) May 6, 2014
Awful Announcing's Steve Lepore, though, wondered how much the netminder was propped up by the Rangers' offensive futility/bad luck:
I mean, the Rangers made Emery and Mason look like geniuses for stretches, and Marc-Andrew Fleury is very slightly better than they are...— Steve Lepore (@stevelepore) May 6, 2014
Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. That's the Rangers' sixth game in nine days, so you wonder if fatigue will begin to be a major factor for New York. Playing that many games in so short a time span is bound to have a deleterious effect on a team's performance.
If the Penguins take Game 4, they'd firmly be in the driver's seat in the series. They'd have two chances to close it out at home, and you wouldn't expect Pittsburgh to blow that with the way it's playing at the moment.