NEW YORK — After several years of disappointments in the playoffs following their Stanley Cup win in 2009, the Penguins might be on to a satisfying learning curve this spring.
“The last four years we learned a lot in different situations,” defenseman Kris Letang said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, when we look at our team, it’s pretty well built from the forwards to the goalies. It’s all guys who want to win for the guy next to him. There are guys stepping up every night.
“Collectively, we know if we don’t play as a five-man unit on the ice, we’re not going to do anything.”
One lesson this year came in the first round, when the Penguins lost Game 4 against Columbus and fell into a 2-2 series tie. They won the next two games to clinch the series.
“We’re trying to apply [those lessons] now,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins will go into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference second-round series against the New York Rangers tonight night at Madison Square Garden in the same situation — they will come out with a commanding, 3-1 series lead or in a 2-2 tie as was the case against the Blue Jackets.
“We have to look at it as that opportunity,” Bylsma said. “We’re up, 2-1, but it’s just the second win. We don’t want to give any opportunity to make this a best-of-three. We have to understand that situation and take that approach.”
As much as the team has might have made progress in areas such as cohesiveness, composure and forging comebacks in games, Bylsma still considers it a work in progress.
“We had to learn quickly,” he said, “but I also think we’re still not at our best yet. We’re still learning, getting better.
“I’m not terribly sure we’ve gotten that true identity as a team. We’re learning to get there.”
Rangers eye offensive tweaks
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside all 57 shots New York threw at him in Games 2 and 3, and is playing with a contagious confidence.
Even so, the Rangers believe they can crack Fleury if they tweak their approach to attacking him.
Center Brad Richards said New York is “probably not” getting as many bodies around the Penguins net as it would like, and that the Rangers might have to get creative in the way they attack Fleury.
“We fired a lot more [shots] at him [in Game 3, when they had 35], but they blocked a lot of shots,” he said. “We’ll have to get tips or [intentionally] shoot wide or do some different things to get to him.”
Fleury is the sixth goalie in the past 30 years to record playoff shutouts on consecutive days, joining Mike Richter (1994), Martin Brodeur (1995), Curtis Joseph (2001), Brent Johnson (2002) and Henrik Lundqvist (2013).
High on Fleury
Letang didn’t hesitate when asked to rate Fleury’s recent play.
“Ten,” he said. “Ten out of 10.
“For the guys in the dressing room, [Fleury] has always been our go-to guy who shows up every night and gives us a chance to win. I’m not very good at rating a goalie, but I’m going to say that since the playoffs began, he’s been our best player.”
No penalty, no movement
There was no movement from the NHL’s department of player safety regarding a crosscheck thrown up high by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal on Penguins center Sidney Crosby in Game 3.
“I would have liked possibly a penalty called or something,” Bylsma said. “It was a crosscheck to the back of the head.”
Eight players participated in an optional Penguins practice — defenseman Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland; forwards Tanner Glass, Chris Conner, Taylor Pyatt and Jayson Megna; and goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff and Tomas Vokoun. None of them played in Game 3.
Afterward, the Penguins returned Megna to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Megna played in two games in the first round against Columbus but had not played in the Rangers series. Wilkes-Barre has advanced to the second round of the AHL playoffs.
The Rangers took a day off, which wasn’t surprising given New York coach Alain Vigneault’s comments after Game 3.
Although he and the Rangers had been downplaying the fatigue factor with back-to-back games Sunday at Consol Energy Center and Monday in New York, which gave the Rangers five games in seven nights, Vigneault changed his tune late Monday night.
“We tried real hard. We were forced to play a stupid schedule, five games in seven nights,” he said, although he added that he was “real proud of how we handled it.”
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @MolinariPG.