This was the most complete game the Penguins have played maybe all season. This is/was somewhat hard for me to say because they were really dominant in the game five win over Columbus in the first round but tonight the Rangers got taken behind the woodshed and were soundly beat. If it weren't for Henrik Lundqvist this game would have been over in the middle of the second period. Lundqvist stood on his head and kept his team in it but his team didn't give him a chance.
This will be a little shorter and to the point because the game got over a little later thanks to a 10:30 start and both of these teams will be back at it tomorrow night in New York thanks to MSG having like every day this week booked with the circus, or something.
You can really go up and down the list and talk about what every single guy on the ice did tonight to help the Penguins win. This really wasn't just a one or two line win, this was a complete team win. The Penguins advanced in the first round by playing some really inconsistent hockey where they would look outstanding for stretches and then fall back and look like a horribly hockey team for long stretches. Tonight they were good and then they continued to be good, and then they put their foot on the Rangers throat and finished the game. It was really great to see.
Want to see where things took off. Check out the fenwick chart from the game:
Through the middle of the game the play was pretty even, or at least close favoring the Penguins, but after that it was all Penguins. I know "flipping the switch" isn't a really thing but that kinda seems like it is what the Penguins did. They smelled blood in the water and while Lundqvist was shutting the door the Penguins kept coming with wave after wave. It took an own goal from a Kris Letang shot to beat him but after that you felt a lot better about how the Penguins were playing.
During 5v5 play tonight the Penguins posted a CF of 63.9% and that is a pretty good way to not let the opposing team put the puck into your net.
The Penguins had 12 players with a corsi for of 60% or better led by Marcel Goc who was at 85.7%.
Before we get into other stuff you have to touch on the defense. For much of this year the defense was wildly frustrating. They have the talent on the team to have a pretty decent defensive unit but with injuries and inconsistent play they just have had a tough time coming together. The Penguins PK unit has been bad and the defense has had massive breakdowns that have resulted in blowing some leads. Not tonight.
Paul Martin and Kris Letang were unreal good tonight. Sure, Letang had a hand in all three goals but defensively he has been playing some really good hockey as of late. In the their period he and Martin played back-to-back rushes for the Rangers perfectly and didn't even allow them to get a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury. Letang hung in there and took a hit to clear the puck out of the zone and Martin was the last line of defense in what could have been a breakaway with the score still only 1-0 Penguins. It was everyone on defense though. Just a clinical performance.
Much love to the back checking too. Everyone was getting into the defensive game and it showed.
Marc-Andre Fleury is a polarizing figure in the Pittsburgh sports scene. Tonight he pitched his seventh playoff shutout. There weren't too many times that he was truly challenged thanks to the Penguins defense but that doesn't mean this counts for any less. All it took was one bad goal early and this game is totally different. With the way Lundqvist was playing one goal by the Rangers makes the Penguins tighten the grip on the stick a little more and I am not sure if the Penguins beat him. Fleury stood tall and stopped all 22 shots he faced and did exactly what you want a goaltender to do, not allow a puck to get behind him into the net. Great stuff from him tonight.
For all of those people still not the Sidney Crosby needs to score wagon you might want to go back and watch this game again. Crosby was nothing less than outstanding tonight. I think Lundqvist was the best player on the ice but Crosby was not too far behind. I will admit that Crosby hasn't quite looked the same this postseason but even so he was still playing some damn good hockey. Tonight he took that to another level. He had a jump in his skates and he was getting into the dirty spots and creating scoring chances in front of the net. This was a great look at how you don't have to necessarily score to have an impact. He was third on the team with a 74.1% corsi for and when he was on the ice the puck was on his stick. He is getting chances and if he is getting chances then pucks are going to find the back of the net eventually.
Evgeni Malkin was just as good as Crosby. He did score a goal into the empty net but he was a nearly 67% corsi for player and his defense today was much better than we are used to see. That is not to say he is a bad defensive player but he continued from game one when he looked like he was as good as he has been in the playoffs. Man when these two guys are on the team can roll despite not scoring a ton of goals.
Lee Stempniak was all kinds of good tonight. He and his line were all over the place. Actually the bottom two lines were outstanding tonight. They were able to keep the puck deep in the Rangers end and make them pay when they went after to get the puck on dump ins. Stempniak didn't score a point but was the Penguins second-best corsi for player (78.9%) playing with the top line and the third line. I don't think he is really great on the top line but when he can play on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett he can make a lot of things happen. That line was really good all night and while the bottom six was a problem during the regular season they have been really good this postseason.
The Rangers power play...yikes.
Just a great win for the Penguins. I don't think this was a must win because I think the Penguins could have made it a series after losing the first two games at home but going into MSG tied has to have the Penguins feeling good. The Penguins are getting the Rangers at a good time. They had to play back-to-back games against the Flyers in games six and seven, followed by one day off before the first game of this series and then back-to-back games for games two and three. I know Rangers fans are going to be whining all the way to the bank but it is not the Penguins, or the NHL's problem that MSG is booked for other engagements the rest of this week. They were going to have to play back-to-back games at some point because of it and it just so happens to be now. The Rangers were a tired team tonight. The Rangers will be a really tired team tomorrow night. The Penguins chase Lundqvist tomorrow. Book it.