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Hall-mark moment typifies Pens' effort

| Monday, April 28, 2008

In basketball parlance, this was a half-court game - the kind a lot of people figured would favor the New York Rangers.

But guess what?

The Penguins can play any style you want.

"It was a tight defensive game, and we responded," said coach Michel Therrien, basking in the afterglow of a 2-0 victory that gave his team a 2-0 chokehold on this second-round series. "A lot of people don't know we were third in the Eastern Conference in goals-against average."

That is true. The Penguins allowed 2.58 goals per game, the second-best mark in franchise history. They ranked right behind the New Jersey Devils and the Rangers, who used a stifling 1-4 trap to register a conference-leading 2.32 goals-against average.

Of course, a lot of people probably don't know the Penguins also had the best record in the East when leading after two periods (36-1-3) and the second-best when leading after one (21-3-2).

Those numbers speak to versatile players working within the confines of an effective system.

Which speaks to good coaching.

When the Penguins so choose, they can drop into their 1-2-2 trap and muck it up with the best of 'em -- even the ultra-oppressive Rangers.

Did anybody see anything resembling a Rangers' breakaway?

How about an odd-man break?

Shoot, how about a glorious scoring opportunity of any kind?

Maybe a few. And that's not to discredit Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 26 shots for his second career playoff shutout. He was very good when he needed to be, including on a Jaromir Jagr chance he thwarted with his right pad in the second period.

But Rangers coach Tom Renney put it best when he said, "I'm not going to suggest it was really easy for (Fleury), but it certainly could have been tougher."

Credit the plucky Penguins for that, on a day when the Rangers held Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to a combined five shots and one assist (a beautiful Malkin setup on Jordan Staal's goal).

"I think Michel has brought in a good system, and when you're playing within the system and everybody knows the system and everybody buys into the system, well, obviously, you're going to be a better team defensively," said assistant coach Andre Savard, who runs a penalty kill that snuffed all six Rangers' power plays. "Every player's buying in."

Don't get the wrong idea. The Penguins are an elite team because they are fortunate enough to own some of the best young talent ever assembled in one dressing room.

Crosby and Malkin would make any coach look good.

But in order to win a Stanley Cup, you need a structure - and you need guys such as Adam Hall.

Two weeks ago, Hall, 27, was on the outside looking in.

Yesterday, he was on the ice in the final minute, helping to protect a 1-0 lead against a 6-on-4 Rangers' attack.

Hall had missed 31 of the team's final 33 regular-season games because of a sports hernia that required surgery. He rejoined the lineup for Game 3 against Ottawa, replacing an injured Gary Roberts.

"At some points, you feel like you're left out," Hall said, "and you don't want anybody to forget about you."

Small chance of that after what happened with 16.7 seconds left yesterday. Hall made a nice play to clear the puck off the glass ... and as it slid along the ice, it broke like a Pedro Martinez curveball, all the way into the empty net.

The place went nuts.

Call it a Hall-mark moment.

"You kind of saw it take a turn there," Hall said, "and you raise the eyebrows, like, 'That might have a chance.' "

Savard, like everybody else in the old steel barn, got a charge out of that goal.

"It's nice to see that for, what do they say, a blue-collar guy?" Savard said. "Pittsburgh, they recognize blue collars. They do. I've noticed that. They love that."

They love winning, most of all, and the Penguins are proving they can win in a variety of ways.

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