The Penguins have won two games in a row against one of the NHL's finest teams.
They've gotten six pucks behind one of the world's top goaltenders, and limited a volatile power play to one goal in nine opportunities.
And that was the easy part.
When their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow, the Penguins will be forced to try to win in an arena where they lost on all four visits -- three times in regulation -- during the regular season.
"We've really struggled in Madison Square Garden, for whatever reason," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Probably three of our worst games all year, we played in that building."
The pressure to win one of the next two games would have been considerably greater if the Penguins hadn't taken the first two at Mellon Arena, including a 2-0 victory in Game 2 yesterday.
Even the worst-case scenario for them at this point isn't all that bad: Should they lose the two games in New York, the series would be reduced to a best-of-three, with two of those games at Mellon Arena. The Penguins have won 12 consecutive games there, beginning with a 3-2 shootout victory against Atlanta March 2.
That's dramatically different from how they fared at the Garden during 2007-08. The Rangers beat them 4-2 Nov. 8, 4-0 Dec. 18, 5-2 March 18 and 2-1 in overtime March 31. "For whatever reason, we don't play that well there," left winger Ryan Malone said. "I really can't put a finger on [why]."
Orpik labeled Madison Square Garden his favorite road arena -- "It's always a good atmosphere," he said. "The crowd's always good" -- and while Malone didn't share that sentiment, he acknowledged the Rangers tend to ratchet up their performance level there.
"Those guys maybe play harder at home than on the road, but that just comes with the fans getting you going," he said. "Every team is tougher in their building."
Penguins center Sidney Crosby didn't manage a point yesterday, despite throwing three shots at Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
He did, however, receive credit for four hits, a total surpassed only by Malone (six) and New York defenseman Daniel Girardi (five) and matched by Rangers forward Ryan Callahan.
"That's the team concept of playoff hockey," center Max Talbot said. "Some guys are going to go out of their way to do things they might not do as much during the [regular] season.
"You see guys like Sid and [Evgeni] Malkin taking the body, and [Sergei Gonchar] taking the body. And you see guys like [Jordan Staal] and [Adam] Hall and [Jarkko] Ruutu, who has been playing great, get some goals.
"That's what playoff hockey is all about."
It's often said that a team "has a book" on a particular player or team it has scouted.
In the case of the Penguins and their playoff opponents, that is a literal truth.
Before each playoff round, the coaching staff gives players a book detailing the opponent's systems and tendencies, as well as the habits of opposing players.
"As a coaching staff, we want to make sure we cover every angle, as far as making sure the guys are prepared and have every bit of information they can," assistant coach Mike Yeo said.
Ruutu, who avoided penalties during the Penguins' first five postseason games, picked up two minors during the first period of Game 2. ... Penguins left winger Gary Roberts missed his fourth consecutive game because of a groin injury. Forwards Kris Beech and Jeff Taffe, defenseman Darryl Sydor and goalie Dany Sabourin also were scratched. ... The Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre has clinched a place in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs and will face Philadelphia or Albany, beginning Thursday. The Phantoms and River Rats will play Game 7 of their opening-round series tomorrow.
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .