There are, to be sure, worse feelings than the one Hal Gill had while sitting in the penalty box after being assessed a cross-checking minor with less than 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation yesterday.
Losing, without a doubt.
Making a mistake that causes your team to lose.
And, uh ... that's probably about it.
"It's lonely in there," Gill said.
Happily for Gill, he got to suffer through that sensation for a full two minutes while watching his teammates protect a one-goal lead.
Then, 21 seconds after stepping back onto the ice, Gill found himself trying to overtake a shot by teammate Adam Hall. He never did catch up, but it didn't matter as the puck found its way into an empty net to clinch the Penguins' 2-0 victory against the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series at Mellon Arena.
"I was worried about an icing," Gill said. "I was happy we killed [the penalty], and I wanted to make sure that if it did miss [the New York net], it wasn't an icing."
It was icing, all right. On the cake of a victory that gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead in the series, which resumes tomorrow at 7:08 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
Game 2 featured more of an emphasis on sound defense than the opener, a 5-4 Penguins victory, had. That change in style and tempo seemed to suit New York, even though the outcome didn't.
Of course, that isn't much consolation for a team that's just two losses from the offseason.
"We're only playing, at max, seven times [in the series]," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "You want to make sure you right your ship quickly."
Doing that, he figures, will involve subjecting Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 26 shots to earn his second shutout this spring, to more high-stress situations than he had to deal with in Game 2.
"We need to make sure he has some screens to have to find the puck through," Renney said. "I'm not going to suggest that it was easy for him, but it certainly could have been tougher."
New York came closest to scoring with 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third period, when Martin Straka punched a shot between Fleury's legs and into the net during a goalmouth scramble.
Referee Dan O'Halloran, however, lost sight of the puck and whistled play dead.
"I knew I had it underneath my pads," Fleury said. "The guy just kept swinging at my pads, and the referee blew [the whistle]."
Televised replays confirmed that play was stopped before the puck crossed the goal line, and the Rangers did not aggressively dispute the ruling.
"I thought the whistle had blown before I saw any kind of indication of a goal," Renney said. "To me, it seemed like a good call."
That sequence came during one of six New York power plays; the Penguins had five chances with the extra man, and got the game-winning goal during the third of those.
Jordan Staal scored it at 13:55 of the second period, taking a feed from Evgeni Malkin and beating Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the front lip of the crease.
"I just tried to make a quick move and shoot it on net," Staal said.
That, it should be noted, was far more ambitious than anything Hall had in mind when he took possession of the puck in the Penguins' end with the third period winding down and Gill's penalty about to expire.
Hall wanted nothing more than to get the puck outside the Penguins' zone, to give Fleury and his teammates an opportunity to prepare for a final surge by the Rangers.
Instead, the puck caromed off the glass along the left-wing boards, then skidded the length of the ice, stopping only when it struck the back of the net.
"It's pretty nice when things work out that way," Hall said, smiling. "You're just trying to break the pressure and get the puck out. We got the home-ice bounce, I guess."
And, more important, protected the home-ice advantage. Win one of the next two games at the Garden, where they lost four times during the regular season, and they'll have a virtual chokehold on the series.
For now, however, all the Penguins have is a two-game advantage. And good reason to be optimistic about what they might be able to achieve.
"It's only 2-0," Staal said. "We know we can win in that building. It's just a matter of playing our game."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published April 28, 2008 4:00 AM