The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially put the New York Rangers on the brink of elimination.
Looking to win their second consecutive game at Madison Square Garden – which is no easy feat – Pittsburgh played utterly dominant, and captured Game 4 with a 4-2 victory over New York, to set up a series-clinching tilt Friday.
Pittsburgh started the game off exactly how they wanted to – by scoring.
Creating an offensive zone chance, captain Sidney Crosby dished off to the other half of the two-headed monster, Evgeni Malkin, who potted a backhand shot by Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on a spin-o-rama move just 2:31-minutes into the game.
Garnering and failing to capitalize on two power-play opportunities, the Pens still gave Lundqvist all he can handle. Generating quality scoring chances all throughout the first, Pittsburgh was able to muster seven shots on the Rangers’ netminder, but made him unsettled with various odd-man rushes.
With the score standing at 1-0, Pittsburgh went into the locker room up, and Marc-Andre Fleury pushed his shutout streak to seven-straight periods.
But that would change.
Developing a 2-on-1 rush, Rangers’ forward Carl Hagelin roofed it past Fleury, ending New York’s scoreless streak, and equalizing the game at one-a-piece. And, with the second period winding down, New York was awarded their second power-play of the game, due to a tripping minor given to Malkin.
However, it proved to be the Pens’ penalty-killers who would reign supreme.
Recently re-inserted forward Brian Gibbons, who picked the biscuit up near the blue-line, came down the wing and contested Lundqvist one-on-one. Unable to convert, the puck laid right in the goal-crease, to which center Brandon Sutter – whose been everywhere for Pittsburgh these playoffs – cleaned up the trash, and put the Pens up 2-1 with a shorthanded tally.
Finishing off the minor to Malkin, Pittsburgh went into the locker room with a 2-1 lead, after pelting Lundqvist with 11 shots in the second.
Coming out of the intermission with their heads on a swivel, Pittsburgh was as-hungry-as ever. Hunting down the puck and laying heavy body checks on Rangers’ players, the Pens just seemed to be wearing down the opposition with their speed and skill. Which was evident once they buried their third goal of the game.
Blocking a pass/shot and pressing Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal, James Neal entered New York’s zone and dropped off the puck, to which Jussi Jokinen blistered a shot that was re-directed. Chasing down the loose puck behind the net, Jokinen brought it out to the side of the cage, turned around and flung one towards Lundqvist, which ricocheted off Staal’s skate and in.
Seemingly sucking the life out of New York – the Rangers weren’t done yet.
With 6:53-minutes left in the game, forward Mats Zuccarello answered the elephant in the room, and brought the lead down to one, after he crossed ice and beat Fleury via a backhand shot. But that would quickly be re-answered by Pittsburgh.
Just 53-seconds following Zuccarello’s goal, Malkin rolled through New York’s zone, carried the puck around the net, and fed it to Chris Kunitz – who was camped out in front – and he snapped home the Pens’ fourth tally, putting their lead back up two. Kunitz’s third goal of the playoffs proved to be the dagger.
Story of the game was Pittsburgh didn’t give the Rangers anything.
Fleury only had to face 15 shots, and Pittsburgh still has yet to allow a goal on the penalty-kill. Every time it seemed as though New York had momentum, especially embraced through the fans, the Pens’ skated immune to the atmosphere and push from the Rangers.
Executing precise puck management and showcasing an all-around defensive game, it’s the reason as to why Pittsburgh’s one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year.
And they’ll have a chance to close out this series, Friday.
The game can be seen on the NBC Sports Network, and is set to start at 7 p.m.