Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers mixes it up with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Welcome to playoff reality, young Penguins.
The NHL's gilded birds were taken down a notch by the Rangers in what could have been a series-clinching Game 4. Instead, Pittsburgh was fitted for that most odious of outfits; doubt.
Simply put, the Rangers out-Pittsburghed Pittsburgh.
New York got stellar goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, points from its best player in Jaromir Jagr, and power plays (and a power play goal for once) thanks to team speed and hard work.
In perhaps one of the more telling plotlines of the night, it was the Penguins stars who were most often seen in the sin bin. Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all spent time in the penalty box and many of the infractions were unnecessary.
In fact, if there was ever a sight to make coach Michel Therrien completely lose his mind, it would have been late in the third period when Crosby and Malkin were both sitting for two minutes thanks to a misguided attempt to restore Hossa's honor after he was rocked by a completely legitimate open-ice hit from Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
And while we're on the topic of taking numbers, don't think for a minute the Rangers will forget Malkin's slewfoot spree that coincided with Jagr salting away the 3-0 New York victory with an empty-net goal.
This is dagger time for the Penguins. OK, the game they just lost should have been dagger time, but since the Pens showed their immaturity in Game 4, they're going to have to make up for it in Game 5.
And don't even try to say the Rangers goaded them into hijinks – when you're in neck-stepping territory, you keep your nose clean and the back of your opponent's net filled with pucks.
No, this was a night where the wily Jagr had a little fun at his old team's expense. This was not going to be his last game in Ranger colors and he led by example. Lundqvist was also a difference maker, stopping a shorthanded breakaway in a scoreless first period, then coming out on the winning end of Malkin's bizarre slow-motion penalty shot with the Blueshirts up a goal in the second.
So how will the Pens respond next time around? This is the key.
New York is loaded with Stanley Cup champions in key positions: Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury all have rings. The Pens don't have that depth of experience in their top threats.
This was Pittsburgh's first loss of the playoffs and they would be well advised to make it their last until the next round.
After all, it's incredibly rare for a team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit – but it has happened.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appears Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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