The Pittsburgh Penguins have one foot in the Eastern Conference Final after a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 4 Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden. That victory gives Pittsburgh a 3-1 series lead.
This loss served as a microcosm for the Rangers' biggest problems this season. New York gave the puck away 25 times, compared to eight for Pittsburgh, and registered 15 shots on goal to Pittsburgh's 27. The Rangers were sloppy on the offensive end and suffered too many breakdowns defensively.
As a result, their hopes of advancing are hanging by a thread.
On the other side, the Penguins are peaking at exactly the right time. They were deadly with their shots on goal, and Marc-Andre Fleury didn't suffer from inconsistency.
Evgeni Malkin got Pittsburgh off to a great start just two-and-a-half minutes into the first period. He passed the puck off to Sidney Crosby, who then looked to give it right back. The puck was deflected, but Malkin spun around to score the backhanded goal.
That was his fifth of the postseason, which is his highest total since 2010, per Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
5th of playoffs for Malkin... his most since that many in 2010 postseason #pens— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) May 7, 2014
After that goal, it looked like Pittsburgh would cruise to an easy victory. The Rangers hadn't scored in the last two games, while the Penguins had a lethal efficiency on the offensive end.
However, New York responded well following Malkin's goal. It could very well have imploded at that point, but the team remained resolute in defense while still creating goal-scoring opportunities.
Five-and-a-half minutes into the second period, Carl Hagelin tied the game up at 1-1. The seas completely parted, giving the 25-year-old Swede a path right to the goal, and he duly fired into the top shelf past Fleury. Hagelin's blinding run up the ice was something to behold.
That goal snapped the Rangers' scoreless streak, which had gone past two hours of game time, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:
McDonagh springs Hagelin for a rush up middle of ice. Goes top shelf. 1-1 here at Garden ... snaps scoreless skid at 145:30— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) May 8, 2014
From that point forward, New York's attack could best be described as profligate. Although the Rangers weren't getting a high number of shots on Fleury, they had ample opportunity to take the lead.
And no player was struggling more than Rick Nash. On multiple occasions, he found himself with glorious opportunities. Time and again, he mucked it up, with a failed three-on-one standing out as the most egregious error:
Nash on a 3-on-1 ... AND! ... he flicks up a weak shot over the net from the circle. #star— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloEtc) May 8, 2014
You won't see that Nash 3-on-1 wrist shot on "Rangers in 60" tonight #NYR— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) May 8, 2014
Nash's poor performance should've come as no surprise. Coming into the game, he had done little with his shots on goal throughout the postseason, per Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun:
What do shots on goal mean, my stats friends? Rick Nash leads playoffs with 41 shots. He has no goals. J Toews has 14 shots, four goals.— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 6, 2014
Speaking of how much Pittsburgh was getting from the likes of Malkin and Crosby, Vigneault said, "Their big boys put on the big boy pants. I need mine to do that."
While his players may have heard him, they didn't act on Vigneault's demand.
The fact that the Penguins scored the go-ahead goal on a Rangers power play only served to magnify New York's problems. Entering Wednesday night, the Rangers had failed to capitalize on any of their 30 power-play chances, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Rangers are 0 for 30 on the power play in their last 8 playoff games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 7, 2014
Just when fans thought that things couldn't get any worse on a Rangers power play, Brandon Sutter went and scored a shorthanded goal 18:27 into the second period. New York gave the puck away and gifted Brian Gibbons a breakaway chance.
Although he lost control of the pick, Sutter came in to clean up the mess.
That led Awful Announcing's Steve Lepore to go Oregon Trail on New York's power play:
The Rangers power play has died of dysentery.— Steve Lepore (@stevelepore) May 8, 2014
Jussi Jokinen provided Pittsburgh with an insurance goal when his shot deflected into the net off Marc Staal. Jokinen's effort was merely speculative, and it happened to find a way in.
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review commended Jokinen's ability to make the maximum amount of impact with his time on the ice:
GOAL: All Jokinen does is catch touchdowns. It’s 3-1.— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) May 8, 2014
Although the Rangers looked to have gotten back in the game after a goal from Mats Zuccarello, which cut the deficit to one goal at 3-2, that good feeling was short-lived. Chris Kunitz scored less than a minute later to restore the Penguins' two-goal lead, 4-2, and kill off any New York comeback.
The series heads back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. You'd think the Penguins could finish off the Rangers now. New York must win three games in a row, two of which would be on the road. With all of the problems the Rangers have now, they don't look to be in a position to dig out of their massive hole.
Considering the bigger picture, the Penguins are looking like one of the best teams in the league. When they needed to respond, they did on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh playing at this level is scary.