Playing their third playoff game in four nights, fifth in seven, and sixth in nine, the Rangers--with three new players in the lineup--played with energy and passion Monday night at Madison Square Garden, but in the end all of that, plus a wide shots disparity in their favor, were all not enough as the Rangers dropped Game Three of their second-round series to the Pittsburgh Penguins by the score of 2-0.
It was the Rangers second loss in as many days, and they now trail this best-of-seven series two games to one with Game Four set to be played Wednesday night at The Garden.
"We were forced to play a stupid schedule, five games in seven nights, and I'm real proud of how our guys handled it," head coach Alain Vigneault said after the game. "We put our best foot forward in each and every game...we played a real strong game (tonight)."
Unlike Sunday's Game Two in Pittsburgh where the Penguins dominated play and the Rangers had to rely heavily on the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist to remain close before losing 3-0, the Blueshirts controlled most of the play and had the far better scoring chances in Game Three on Monday. However for a second straight game the Rangers could not figure out a way to beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 35 saves and who benefited from three Ranger shots that hit the post while earning the eighth post-season shutout of his career.
Lundqvist faced only 15 shots, including only one in the third period when New York held a 9-1 shots advantage.
"We did a lot of good things, but we have to dig deeper," explained Lundqvist. "It's the first tto four wins. Now it's time to take a deep breath here. This is definitely not over."
One constant throughout this series is the fact that New York again was hurt by its inability to score on the power play. One night after going 0-for-4 and failing on three power plays in the game's first seven minutes, the Rangers went 0-for-5 with the man advantage Monday, with the Penguins scoring both of their goals seconds after successful penalty kills. The Rangers are mired in a 0-for-34 funk on the power play dating to Game Two of their first-round series against the Flyers. Pittsburgh has killed off all 13 Rangers power plays in this series, including a 6-on-4 advantage with Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker and Paul Martin the box at 18:02 of the third period on Monday.
"We had the puck a lot more in their zone and more possession," Ryan McDonagh said of the Rangers power play in Game Three. "We should feel good because we had a lot of good looks. It's just a matter of crashing the net and making it hard on (Fleury) as much as we can."
The sliver of a silver lining is that the power play generated far more scoring opportunities during Monday's loss. The puck movement was much better, and the addition of Raphael Diaz--who willingly shot whenever given the chance Monday, finishing with six shots on goal in his Rangers playoff debut--certainly was a spark. During a four-minute double-minor assessed to Pittsburgh's James Neal for high sticking rookie Jesper Fast in the mouth--another new addition to the Rangers lineup Monday--which bridged the first and second periods, both Benoit Pouliot and Marty St. Louis had shots hit off the post behind Fleury.
Shortly after St. Louis rang his shot off iron 1:40 into the second period, the Penguins finished off killing the penalties to Neal, and Sidney Crosby snapped a scoreless tie with his first goal of the post-season at 2:34. Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo found Crosby flying behind Marc Staal with a long home run pass up left wing, and Crosby wristed one between Lundqvist's pads for his first goal in 13 playoff games dating to last spring and his first point of this series.
Pittsburgh's Jussi Jokinen doubled the visitor's lead by scoring his fifth of the playoffs with 4:40 to play in the second. His goal, following a Mats Zuccarello turnover, came eight seconds after the Penguins had successfully killed off a holding the stick minor to Jokinen, himself. He scored on a breakaway after a miscue involving Zuccarello and Brad Richards, and stretched his playoff point-scoring streak to seven consecutive games.
Earlier in the second period Zuccarello thought he had tied the game when his one-timer, off a brilliant Pouliot feed, beat Fleury cleanly and seemed to catch the upper corner of the net. However the on-ice officials ruled no goal, and that call was upheld by video review, with Zuccarello's shot being ruled to have hit the post at 8:02.
"It's been a struggle for us, and that's the game today, we don't score and we gave them two goals," offered Zuccarello. "It's not good enough when we don't score goals. If we let it go to our heads it's not going to be any easier so we just have to keep shooting and hopefully we get a lucky bounce; but today we created a lot of chances to win this game, but you don't win hockey games when you don't score goals."
With his team in need off fresh legs in Game Three, Vigneault inserted Diaz, Fast, and J.T. Miller into the lineup. Those three replaced John Moore, Derek Dorsett, and Daniel Carcillo, and each represented themselves well on Monday night, in particular Diaz who was full of jump and able to consistently get his shots through to Fleury.
Diaz, who played 19 minutes and 30 seconds and led the team in shots, paired with Kevin Klein at even strength while Miller started his evening alongside St. Louis and Derek Stepan before switching to the side of Richards and Carl Hagelin. Fast, who was bloodied in the mouth and may have suffered dental damage on Neal's high stick, skated on the team's fourth line with Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle.
The back-to-back shutout losses in the playoffs were the first suffered by the Rangers since the 1937 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.