King Henry solid, but Rangers not great

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Keeping holy the Sabbath, the Penguins quietly celebrated their faith yesterday inside the Uptown Temple of Slashing and Cross checking.

Though not listed officially among the globe's organized religions, it was nonetheless and nothing less than hockey orthodoxy that allowed them to sidestep the New York Rangers and pack for Manhattan with a two-games-to-none series lead.

The primary tenet of Pittsburgh's faith yesterday was that into the net the puck shall goeth, eventually, despite all worldly evidence to the contrary.

"I knew we were going to score at least one," Jarkko Ruutu said in the minutes after he and the Penguins hammered down their sixth consecutive playoff victory, winning 2-0. "He can't save them all."

He can't?

Henrik Lundqvsit spent the first 33 minutes in the Rangers' goal yesterday looking as though he could glove a moth in a snowstorm.

Then he got better.

In a riotous sequence early in the first period, King Henry turned Marian Hossa's breakaway dipsy-do's back toward Doodipsy, stopped Sergie Gonchar's 500-mph slapper, stoned Sidney Crosby on the doorstep to his right.

Nothing was getting past him, and it looked as though that might be the case for the next week or so.

"It's going to go in sooner or later," Jordan Staal said right from the puck catechism. "And that's what it did."

And so it is written.

But it didn't go in before the Rangers had all but flipped the momentum of the series. When the Penguins won Game 1, 5-4, in the final minutes, it was the first time the Rangers had allowed five goals in a game since Feb. 15. When the one real surprise from that first episode was that Lundqvist looked strangely vulnerable, New York's immediate future would clearly fulcrum on whether the Rangers goalie could regain his generally immense confidence.

"He was terrific," said Rangers boss Tom Renney, who had no trouble offering that many of his Lundqvist's teammates weren't. "I don't want to put too fine a point on it; we weren't good enough, but we have some things to build on."

How much construction is planned prior to tomorrow's Game 3 at Madison Square Garden wasn't definitively explained, but it won't have very much to do with goaltending. Early in the second period, the Penguins put so much pressure on Lundqvist that Rangers backcheckers were practically bumping into each other, but no puck crossed the line.

When Lundqvist stopped an uncontested Crosby blast from the right faceoff circle at the 13:30 mark of the second period, the sense that this was the game Henrik would steal by himself hung in the stale Arena air palpably.

Crosby wagged his head at that suggestion.

"We had some great chances," quothe the Kid, whom Henrik kept off the score sheet for the first time in five playoff games. "We could have had more than one by that time. A few times we had an open net and we fumbled the puck or whatever."

It was just 25 seconds later that the Rangers ran out of whatevers. It started with Evgeni Malkin twisting through the left circle past New York defenseman Marc Staal, Jordan's older brother, then sweeping the puck to Jordan, who whistled it past Lundqvist.

"We know how good [Lundqvist] can be," Staal said. "He was making great saves right off the bat, but you just keep plugging away. It's gotta go in sooner or later."

Yeah I keep hearing that, which I guess is why, on a day when Marc Andre-Fleury countered Lundqvist's brilliance with a gritty shutout, the puck was spotted in the Penguins goal in the glow of a red lamp with 4:14 remaining in the third period. Martin Straka appeared to have poked it between Fleury's pads to tie the score at that point, but everyone at ice level including the Rangers seemed satisfied that the whistle had blown, rightly or not.

More worldly evidence contrary to Penguins' superiority was thus discounted, and it was faithfully verified when Adam Hall's clearing pass scurried like a field mouse into an empty net with 16.7 seconds left.

Hossa was 0 for 7 shooting the puck. Gonchar, Ruutu, and Crosby went a combined 0 for 10. Lundqvist had faced 31 shots and stopped 30, and New York's predicament only grew worse.

"I'm not going to suggest that it was really easy for [Fleury, who stopped everything]," said Renney, "but it certainly could have been tougher. I don't think we tested him enough. I think we need to make sure he has some screens to have to find the puck through."

Though the results might seem damaging to New York's confidence this morning, the fact is the Rangers have been right on the edge of everything necessary to be up two games rather than down two. It's now up to the Penguins to make sure the troubling atmospherics of the world's most famous arena do not shake their faith.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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