Crosby, Fleury lead Penguins in shutout win over Rangers in Game 3
NEW YORK – Shutting out the New York Rangers on consecutive nights in the Stanley Cup playoffs was not enough for the Penguins. Neither was taking back home-ice advantage with a 2-0 victory in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
“We played smart, but I thought we sat back too much in the third period,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said.
Bortuzzo is as good guy to note for these Penguins, who are getting contributions from almost everybody this postseason.
After all, somebody had to be the player who set up captain Sidney Crosby's first goal of the postseason — though, Bortuzzo figured that somebody would be anybody but him. He had 10 assists in 54 regular-season games, and he is only playing in the playoffs because of an injury to defense corps leader Brooks Orpik.
Still, for a group that Crosby acknowledged is developing a collective resolve to do things differently than in previous postseasons, Bortuzzo is no less a contributor than the former MVP centers (Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) or Marc-Andre Fleury — the franchise goalie who is stealing New York tabloid headlines from the Rangers' “King Henrik” Lundqvist.
Fleury made 35 saves for his eighth career shutout, but even he took Bortuzzo's post-Game 3 stance that the Penguins really could have done things “a little better” in taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Wednesday night.
External expectations started to crush the Penguins in Round 1 against Columbus. Now, two wins from a return to the Eastern Conference final, they are their own worst critics.
Forget the Rangers' 20 giveaways, players said.
Never mind the Rangers' winning only 44 percent of faceoffs, players said.
Pay no attention to the Rangers' going 0 for 5 on the power play, or their 0-for-13 series performance, players said.
The Penguins need to be better than they were after Crosby and winger Jussi Jokinen scored in the second period of Game 3.
“Sometimes you have to win these kind of games,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If they're getting more shots they're probably winning the territorial battle, but if you're not giving up that many great opportunities you're OK with it.
“But, obviously, we'd like to have more push than that.”
The “that,” Niskanen said, was the Penguins' going without a shot for about 18 minutes after Jokinen's fifth playoff goal late in the second period.
Jokinen bested Lundqvist on a breakaway just after he had exited the penalty box for a holding-the-stick minor in the defensive zone.
Crosby, too, had beaten Lundqvist on a breakaway, and it followed the Rangers' failure to capitalize on four consecutive minutes of power-play time because of winger James Neal's high-sticking double minor late in the first period.
Bortuzzo sprung Crosby, which seemed to surprise all of their Penguins' teammates.
“I'll take it,” Bortuzzo said while recalling the pass that set up Crosby's first playoff goal since Round 2 of last postseason.
It was (winger Chris Kunitz) that made a pass to the middle, and I popped my head up and saw Sid kind of streaking there and a defenseman in an awkward position. I just tried to snap it to (Crosby), and I was pretty excited when he finished it.”
Equally excited was the Penguins' bench, from which an audible roar drowned out groans from a sellout crowd of New Yorkers – at least for a few seconds. Fleury said he could barely stop smiling while watching Crosby celebrate, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called the goal “a big lift.”
Before Game 3, Bylsma had decried the adage that road teams must play “simple” hockey to win in the postseason. His players backed him up after Game 3.
“Simple isn't always great, but I think smart might be a better word,” Niskanen said. “You've got to be aggressive. You've got to go after it when you have the opportunity. You've got to use your strengths as a team, but just be smart.”
The strength of these Penguins is perhaps how they are transforming.
They arrived at this postseason having lost four of seven series since claiming the Cup in 2009. A couple of weeks ago they were tied 2-2 in a series with an upstart Columbus squad, and even while winning that series they had stretches that failed to inspire thoughts of a deep playoff run.
Now, suddenly, they're a group that believes they can do better than blanking a second-round opponent on consecutive nights.
“The one thing we have to be aware of, and I think we have been doing it, is getting better as the playoff go along,” Crosby said. “Guys have stepped up when they've needed to, and it's been different guys every night.”