Penguins take series lead, beat Rangers 2-0

NEW YORK -- Marc-Andre Fleury's reputation hasn't been completely rehabilitated, of course.

Memories of his playoff lapses and letdowns are still too fresh to too many people, and some critics are sure to skewer him mercilessly the next time he gives up a goal.

Assuming he ever does.

OK, that probably is going to happen before too much longer -- quite possibly in Game 4 of the Penguins' second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night -- but it's been a while since anything made it into the net behind him. Exactly 120 minutes, for those who appreciate round numbers.

Fact is, Fleury scrawled his signature in the franchise record book Monday night, when he became the first Penguins goalie to record consecutive shutouts in the playoffs, as he rejected 35 New York shots in a 2-0 victory in Game 3 at the Garden.

In the process, he also became the first Penguins goalie to record two shutouts in the same series.

Fleury's play of late is one of the primary reasons the Penguins have a 2-1 lead in the series.

It could be that he has played as well at some point in his playoff career as he has lately, but no one who has been around him believes he has elevated his game beyond where it's been lately.

"He's been really good at times -- a lot of times -- but the last two days, he's in the zone," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It just looks so easy to him.

"He always knows where the puck is and makes the big save. He's been really, really good."

Still, Fleury's feat was somewhat overshadowed by something that had been threatening to become almost as rare as back-to-back shutouts -- a Sidney Crosby playoff goal.

But after failing to score in 13 playoff games in a row, Crosby shed that slump -- and presumably forced much of the hockey world to find a new subject on which to fixate -- when he broke a scoreless tie at 2:34 of the second period.

He pulled in a long lead pass from defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, then carried the puck into the New York end before putting a shot between the legs of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from inside the left circle.

"It's nice not having to answer [questions about the slump], to be honest," Crosby said. "But that being said, it's one game.

"In the playoffs, you have to be able to turn the page quickly. But it's nice to finally score. ... You just try to believe that eventually, they're going to go in."

Crosby's goal came on his 29th shot in these playoffs, which means he won't be turning up among the league leaders in shooting percentage anytime soon.

And while his teammates seemed visibly relieved that Crosby's dry spell had ended, most had seem convinced before the past few games that it was about to be over.

"He's been doing a lot of good things," Niskanen said. "He could feel it coming. But it's got to feel good for him to get that one."

Crosby's goal was the winner, but Jussi Jokinen provided some important insurance at 15:20 of the second.

He had just finished serving a minor for holding the stick when an errant pass by New York's Mats Zuccarello made its way to him in the neutral zone. Jokinen broke in alone on Lundqvist and beat him to stretch his personal points streak to seven games.

Jokinen's goal came just a few seconds after the Penguins had killed the Rangers' fourth power play of the game, extending New York's power-play drought to 33 tries.

It reached 34 by the end of the game, because New York spent the final 118 seconds of regulation with an extra man, futilely attempting to spoil Fleury's shutout.

Although New York's power play was impressive much of the time in Game 3, the Penguins' penalty-killers like what they've done through the first three games of the series.

"It's one of those things, obviously, that ebbs and flows," forward Craig Adams said. "Sometimes, it feels like you can't keep it out of your net and, sometimes, you feel like you're going to kill them all off."

A lot of things have gone right for the Penguins in the past two games -- like, Crosby has scored more goals than Fleury has given up -- but they have only half the victories needed to reach the Eastern Conference final.

"This is definitely not over," Lundqvist said.

Absolutely not. Then again, neither is Fleury's shutout streak.

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 5, 2014 10:15 PM

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