Penguins beat Rangers, 4-2, to take 3-1 lead in series

NEW YORK — The Penguins will tell you that their Eastern Conference second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers is far from over, and they can offer some pretty compelling evidence.

Like how it takes four victories to win a best-of-seven series, and they only have three.

And how New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist is capable of stealing a game — maybe even a series — by virtue of his singular brilliance.

But now that the Penguins’ 4-2 victory in Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden has given them a 3-1 lead in the series, history makes an even more convincing case that they’re headed for the Eastern Conference final for the second year in a row.

New York, you see, has faced a 3-1 deficit in 15 previous best-of-seven series.

The next time the Rangers win one will be the first.

Fact is, they haven’t managed to extend one to seven games since 1939,when, of course, they lost, anyway.

The Penguins will have a chance to run New York’s record in such situations to 0 for 16, when Game 5 will be played at 7:08 p.m. Friday at Consol Energy Center.

But that 0-for-15 streak likely isn’t the most troubling one at the moment for the Rangers. Not when their power play has failed to score on its past 36 tries and that, when the Penguins got the goal that put them in front to stay, New York had an extra man.

Brandon Sutter scored it at 18:27 of the second period, after Rangers winger Rick Nash — he of zero goals in his past 14 playoff games — turned the puck over in the neutral zone.

Kris Letang banked a pass off the boards to Brian Gibbons, who broke in alone on Lundqvist. Gibbons whiffed on his shot attempt, but Sutter swooped in to stick the puck high in the net for a 2-1 lead.

Sutter’s goal was the Penguins’ third while short-handed in these playoffs, tying a franchise record set in 1991 and matched in 1992.

It figured to stand as the winner until 13:07 of the third, when a Mats Zuccarello backhander beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from a sharp angle to slice the Penguins’ lead to 3-2.

Chris Kunitz negated that just 57 seconds later, however, converting an Evgeni Malkin setup to give the Penguins their margin of victory.

“That was huge,” Fleury said.

Although Zuccarello’s goal didn’t affect the outcome, it made the goal Jussi Jokinen scored at 7:02 of the third, when he beat Lundqvist from inside the left circle, the winner.

Seems fitting that Jokinen got it, actually, since he has been one of the Penguins’ most consistent and productive performers in these playoffs.

The goal was his team-leading sixth and extended his scoring streak to eight games, something no Penguins player had done in the postseason since Jaromir Jagr put up points in 11 in a row in 1996. Not bad for a guy who spent several nights in the press box in the 2013 playoffs.

“I’m feeling pretty good, probably play the best hockey of my career,” Jokinen said. “I don’t think it’s just right now. I think it’s been pretty much throughout the season.”

Although the Zuccarello goal was suspect, Fleury’s teammates weren’t complaining about his work.

After all, he had stopped 66 consecutive shots and shut out the Rangers for 145 minutes and 30 seconds — his longest such streak in the playoffs — before Carl Hagelin of the Rangers capped a rush by beating him from inside the left circle at 5:45 of the second period.

Fleury, it should be noted, wasn’t tested nearly as often or severely as he had been in Game 3, when New York launched 35 shots at him. The Rangers managed only 15 in Game 4.

“We played a very solid game for 60 minutes,” Fleury said. “We didn’t give them much.”

The Penguins contained the New York offense despite playing the final two periods with just five defensemen. Brooks Orpik returned after missing five games because of an unspecified injury, but left after logging five minutes and 15 seconds of ice time in the first period after appearing to injure his right knee.

“We were excited for him to get back in the lineup,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “It was a good boost for us, as a [defense] corps. To see him go down was tough.”

But not a lethal blow. The Penguins were the ones who delivered that to put themselves in position to close out the series.

Not that they’re taking a spot in the next round for granted.

“The fourth one is the toughest one to [get],” Jokinen said. “They’re probably going to do everything they can Friday. They don’t have anything to lose anymore. They’re going to be desperate.”

But mostly, the Rangers are going to be trying to overcome a legacy that says their season is all but officially over.

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 7, 2014 10:14 PM

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