Penguins down Rangers to take 3-1 series lead
NEW YORK — Marc-Andre Fleury has known Stanley Cup playoff pain. So have many of his Penguins teammates.
“It doesn't always have to be good experience to learn,” Fleury said Wednesday night after the Penguins pushed to within a win of ending Round 2 with a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
They lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and will take to their home ice at Consol Energy Center on Friday night with a chance to return to the Eastern Conference final.
“I don't know if we've looked at it that way,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We've just tried to improve as the playoffs have gone along. … I don't think we've even looked that far ahead. You can't do that. You'll find out pretty quickly that it doesn't work like that.”
It has not worked for the Penguins in previous postseasons, at least not like it did in Game 4 against the Rangers.
They won despite playing with only five defensemen after the first period, despite failing to score again on the power play and despite dominating defensively for a long stretch but suddenly finding themselves clinging to a one-goal lead late in regulation.
Every challenging situation was met with resolve and a response.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik didn't return after the opening 20 minutes, so Paul Martin played about that many in the second and third periods.
The power play went 0 for 3, so center Brandon Sutter scored a short-handed goal to break a 1-1 tie late in the second.
The Rangers pulled to within a goal on only their second shot of the third period, which came about seven minutes in, so center Evgeni Malkin set up winger Chris Kunitz's insurance marker 57 seconds later.
Coach Dan Bylsma adjusted in the second period to clog up a neutral zone that the Rangers were flooding with stretch passes.
James Neal — a former 40-goal sniper — stripped Rangers defenseman Marc Staal to set up fellow winger Jussi Jokinen's goal in the third.
Malkin and Crosby produced multiple points in the same game for the first time in this postseason.
Contrast all of that to what happened at the same series' point in Round 1, when the Penguins failed to take command by giving away Game 4 at Columbus.
Or the Game 2 home meltdown against Boston in the East final last postseason.
Or the overall flameout against Philadelphia in Round 1 of 2012.
Or the blown 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in 2011.
Or the Game 7 loss that closed the Cup defense (and Mellon Arena) in 2010.
Sutter was around for only the Bruins' sweep last playoffs, but …
“It's almost the same group, and you learn as you go,” he said.
Pain often only is healed by time, and these Penguins are trying to make the most of theirs this postseason.
“We learned some things last year,” Sutter said, “but we've still got to get one more win to get to the next round.”