Henrik Lundqvist did everything in his power to give the Rangers a second straight road win in Pittsburgh to open up the team's second round playoff series, but it wasn't enough as the Rangers were defeated 3-0 by the Penguins Sunday night at the CONSOL Energy Center. The best-of-seven series, now tied 1-1, shifts locales with the Rangers hosting Game Three in less than 24 hours, Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
"There's no time here to feel sorry for ourselves," stated Marty St. Louis after the loss. "Obviously we want some of those plays back, but the good thing is we get going tomorrow. We'll try and put a better foot forward tomorrow."
The oft-maligned Marc-Andre Fleury was not tested nearly as much as Lundqvist in Game Two Sunday night, but he was quite good in shutting the Rangers out and making sure his team did not fall into a 2-0 deficit in the series. Fleury stopped all 22 shots he faced to earn his seventh career post-season shutout and 50th playoff victory in his career.
Lundqvist, who tied Mike Richter for most career playoff appearances by a Rangers goaltender with 76 on Sunday, was often a one-man show as the Penguins stormed the Rangers at many different points of the game. He ended the night with 32 saves, beaten only on a deflected shot in the second period and a late power play goal in the third. The final goal was scored into an empty net.
"I felt pretty sharp," Lundqvist said after the game. "They played really well. You have to give them some credit. They made it tough for us. We did what we could, but it just wasn't enough today. We'll go home and regroup and play another game tomorrow."
Sidney Crosby played an energized game for the Penguins, leading his team with six shots on goal, but was held off the scoresheet for a second straight game in this series. He has yet to score a goal in eight playoff games this spring. Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh on Sunday, to go along with five shots on goal, while defenseman Kris Letang recorded three points--a goal and two assists.
Without Lundqvist the Rangers could have been in a far deeper hole then their 1-0 deficit after 40 minutes of play. The Penguins generated a slew of Grade A scoring chances, routinely were winning puck battles, and were the aggressors right from the first drop of the puck, blending a rugged, physical style to go along with their highly-skilled offensive game. However Lundqvist stopped 24 of 25 shots through two periods, giving the Rangers a chance to snag another road win in this series.
"Hank played really well," said Brad Richards, who led New York with six shots on Sunday. "He gave us a chance to tie it in the third, but we didn't score any goals. Nothing he can do about that."
After making nine saves in the first period, Lundqvist faced 16 second-period shots, flat-out robbing Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter, and James Neal on separate point-blank opportunities during the middle twenty. His outstretched right pad stop on a Crosby slam-dunk attempt midway through the period was probably his best, a tremendous combination of anticipation and athleticism.
However roughly thirty seconds after that save on Crosby, Lundqvist was finally beaten on a deflected Letang pass/ shot at 10:26 of the second. On right wing, Letang saw Kunitz slip in behind Dan Girardi cutting to the net and tried to send one towards the net, likely looking for a Kunitz deflection. Girardi lunged to break up the play, but instead redirected the puck past Lundqvist, with the goal credited to Letang.
Though the Penguins gave the Rangers very little room to operate, and broke up repeated rushes before the puck could even enter their zone, the visitors did generate a few solid scoring chances, but a sharp Fleury was up to the challenge. He made quality in-close saves on both Derek Stepan and Rick Nash in the opening period, and denied Nash twice on tricky shots from the slot during the same sequence late in the second. Unfortunately for the Rangers they just could not sustain any offensive pressure against Fleury through the first two periods of play.
"You've got to give them credit, their top players played a real strong game, and they made it real difficult for us all over the ice," stated Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "We're going to turn the page on this one and get ready for tomorrow. We're going home to be in front of our fans. We're going to need their support. It should be a lot of fun."
The Rangers were awarded three power plays over the first seven minutes of the game, but not only failed to score on all three, they recorded only one shot on goal--by Stepan--with the six minutes of man advantage time. Kunitz set the game's physical tone by running into Lundqvist just 40 seconds into the game, and then Matt Niskanen followed by taking a roughing minor against Daniel Carcillo at 3:36, and Malkin boarded Girardi at 7:04. While a game is never lost by what happens right off the bat, certainly the Rangers could have changed the complexion of this contest with an early goal or two on the power play.
New York looked much better on their fourth power play 3:39 into the second period--recording four shots on goal--but again were held off the scoreboard. Bad almost became worse for the visitors when Kunitz was sprung out of the penalty box on a clean breakaway, but Lundqvist made a sensational stop to keep the game scoreless at the time.
The power play is now 0-for-8 in this series, 3-for-37 in the playoffs, and has been held without a goal in its last 29 opportunities dating to Game Two against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.
"The power play had some looks and it could have given us some momentum, but we didn't finish," explained Vigneault. "The power play ultimately is my responsibility, and I have to find the right trigger points here to make it work."
The team's failures on the power play were compounded by the fact that the Penguins iced their victory with a power play goal of their own with 3:30 remaining in the third period. Jussi Jokinen scored his fourth of the playoffs into a gaping net after Lundqvist had made a sprawling stop on Neal.
Malkin scored into the empty net with 53.5 seconds left to play.
Game Three on Monday night at The Garden will be the third game in four nights for these two clubs, while the Rangers will also be playing their sixth playoff contest in a nine-day span.