Game 3: Pens push Rangers to brink

| Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NEW YORK -- To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, the screen door has not yet slammed on the New York Rangers, but the Penguins are pulling outta here to win.

Only a few hours after he was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy, center Evgeni Malkin proved his MVP qualifications all night Tuesday with two goals and an assist in the Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"He's awesome," right wing Marian Hossa said of Malkin, whose six points pace all players in the series. "Right now, he's playing unbelievable. The best player in the world."

Malkin's power-play goal late in the second period put the Penguins ahead after the Rangers overcame a two-goal deficit. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 10 of his 36 saves over the final 20 minutes to preserve a seventh consecutive victory to open the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Penguins can sweep into the Eastern Conference final with a win Thursday in Game 4. They lead this best-of-seven Eastern Semifinal series, 3-0.

Coincidentally, the last club to win its first eight playoff games was the 1994 Rangers.

But because the night belonged to Malkin, the Penguins left Madison Square Garden with a victory for the first time this season.

They were 0-3-1 at "the world's most famous arena" during the regular season. However, they improved to 7-1 all-time in road playoff games against the Rangers, who are losing the battle of special teams in this series.

New York is 1 for 14 on the power play after going 0 for 5 in Game 3.

Each of Malkin's goals, including his momentum-changing fifth of the playoffs at 17:53 of the second period, was on the advantage. The Penguins scored on two of three power-play chances and are 4 for 13 (30.8 percent) in the series.

"We've been playing so hard," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said after the Penguins allowed New York only five power-play shots over 8:46 of advantage-time, including just two on 1:14 of a 5-on-3 advantage.

"Everybody on the penalty kill deserves a lot of credit. It's probably the biggest reason we won tonight."

Malkin is the biggest reason the Penguins are in position to play in an Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2001.

He has played a part in each of the Penguins' winning goals in the series, scoring them in Games 1 and 3 and assisting on center Jordan Staal's tally in Game 2.

His first advantage goal at 17:41 of the first period staked the Penguins to a 3-1 lead. Hossa and right wing Georges Laraque also scored in the opening period for the Penguins.

The Rangers, led by an inspired effort from captain Jaromir Jagr (a goal and an assist, 10 shots), stormed back in a second period that defenseman Brooks Orpik termed "probably our worst period of the playoffs."

Ryan Callahan pulled the Rangers within 3-2 at 12:07. Jagr scored his third of the playoffs at 13:11.

Momentum was in New York's favor, but two factors worked against the Rangers - an ill-timed boarding penalty by forward Ryan Hollweg that paved the way for Malkin's winning goal, and surprising poor play from three-time Vezina finalist Henrik Lundvquist.

Left wing Ryan Malone's third playoff goal at 2:30 of the third period capped a brutal night for Lundqvist, who turned aside only 12 shots.

"Little things go a long way, and we know that," Malone said. "We've got to be ready for Game 4 and make sure we don't lose our focus."

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