Fleury, Penguins blank Rangers to deadlock 2nd-round series
Marc-Andre Fleury had just finished off his seventh shutout in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but that accomplishment really didn't do much for him on Sunday night.
“Oh, gosh, we were so fast, right?” Fleury said after the Penguins' 3-0 win over the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.
“I kept watching our guys and it was, like, ‘Wow, we're flying!”
Fleury finished with 22 saves, and defenseman Kris Letang, winger Jussi Jokinen and center Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins. All of which was nice, but the first home playoff game taken in by majority co-owner Ron Burkle's mother resonated with Fleury because …
“We played a total game,” Fleury said. “We were fast and good on defense and had the puck a lot. We looked like we should.”
The Rangers have their split of Games 1 and 2 and home-ice advantage.
However, with Game 3 scheduled for Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins believe they made good on a pre-series objective of making the Rangers' challenging recent schedule a factor in the best-of-seven series.
Game 3 will mark the Rangers' sixth game in nine days.
The Penguins will play for only the fourth time over the same span. They have not played as they did in Game 2 for quite some time, players said.
They finished with 35 hits, but 30 were delivered in the opening 40 minutes. The Penguins had averaged 29 hits in seven prior playoff contests.
Punishing the Rangers was an objective before the series, winger Tanner Glass said.
Glass, though, was a healthy scratch for Game 2. Winger Brian Gibbons replaced him — an indication of the role coach Dan Bylsma wanted speed to play in the plan to wear down the Rangers.
“His speed was a factor,” Bylsma said of Gibbons. “I don't think he adds a physical element against the other team, but he does it with his speed.”
The Penguins dropped Game 1 in overtime, mostly because they won few of what Bylsma refers to as “50-50 pucks” — the ones up for grabs.
“It's always important,” winger Craig Adams said. “We want to put pucks behind them and make them work. If we can get there first, we'll get there first. If not, we want to be physical.
“We didn't do that enough in Game 1. I thought we did a much better job (in Game 2) of making them work and playing in their end.”
More than role players such as Adams and Gibbons made the Rangers, especially their defensemen, work hard to merely get the puck.
Captain Sidney Crosby and Malkin continuously pushed the pace and drove to the net, forcing the Rangers to over-pursue and often leaving wingers Chris Kunitz and James Neal in position for good looks upon New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
He made 32 saves, about a dozen of the spectacular variety.
Lundqvist robbed Neal from point-blank range after a kick-and-slide pass from center Brandon Sutter. Kunitz was stoned on a breakaway.
There were others, including six saves on Crosby, who has not scored a goal in 13 games dating back to the regular season.
Crosby looked a lot like his presumptive regular-season MVP self in Game 2, though. He whipped backhanded shots, challenged defensemen and changed speeds.
He played with many linemates, including Malkin and Gibbons — as Bylsma tinkered often and used his home-ice last change to get fresh skaters out against the Rangers.
Winning Game 2 was the primary goal, but winning it the right way was equally important, defenseman Olli Maatta said.
“The big thing wasn't skating, it was compete-level,” Maatta said. “You want to be the first guy touching the puck. It's all about that. We did a great job, but we have a game (Monday) and we have to keep going with that.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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