NEW YORK — Brandon Sutter had choices.
He could have hung back. After all, his team was short-handed, and one of Sutter’s strengths is being responsible defensively.
If he had a weak moment, he could have slowed to admire fellow penalty-killing forward Brian Gibbons’ breakaway.
Sutter opted to support Gibbons, taking off and following him to the net.
Not a bad choice. Sutter was there to finish the play with a short-handed, go-ahead goal in the second period as the Penguins beat the New York Rangers, 4-2, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden for a commanding 3-1 lead in this Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
“It’s a good thing I jumped,” Sutter said. “I was kind of guessing what to do — whether I should follow it up or be a little more patient. It worked out.”
The goal was Sutter’s first point of the series, which might seem surprising given that this 25-year-old center is having a strong postseason, just his second time in the payoffs.
Sutter had the winning goal in the third period of the Penguins’ playoff opener, a 4-3 victory against Columbus. In the six games of that first-round series, Sutter had three goals, two assists.
The points dried up in the first three games of the Rangers series — until Wednesday.
“I don’t always worry too much about the points,” Sutter said. “It’s fun to score goals. You want to contribute and you want to [score], but there’s a lot more that goes into it, especially when you’re playing a team that doesn’t give up a lot.
“You’ve got to be just as smart defensively.”
Sutter had a plus-minus rating of plus-2 in the game. He moved into the team lead for these playoffs at plus-10.
He entered the game with a winning percentage of .532 on faceoffs and won 8 of 13 Wednesday night.
Sutter, normally a third-line center, has spent time on the second line this postseason as coach Dan Bylsma often has loaded up the top line by putting Evgeni Malkin on Sidney Crosby’s wing.
One of Sutter’s biggest values to the Penguins is his penalty-killing. In Game 4, the Penguins killed both Rangers power plays, leaving New York in an 0-for-35 funk with a man-advantage, including 0 for 15 in this series.
Sutter said he was “a little bit” surprised that the Rangers have faltered on the power play.
“We know they have skilled players and good players,” he said. “They have a lot of guys who can score goals. I’m not really going to talk too much about their stuff, but we still have to respect it. They’re still getting some chances.”
In Game 4, it was the Penguins who converted the chance that made a difference when the Rangers were on the power play.
With Malkin serving a tripping minor and the score tied, 1-1, defenseman Kris Letang took the puck from Rangers winger Rick Nash and got it to Gibbons at the right point.
Gibbons deftly eluded New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh and took off toward the net. Just as he reached the crease and with Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist poised, Gibbons lost the puck on a deke.
That’s when Sutter swooped in and lifted the puck past Lundqvist.
“It’s a tough one for the team, obviously,” Lundqvist said. “We are looking to get that second goal — it’s such an important goal. It was a tough one.”
Unless you were wearing a white jersey.
“I just tried to follow it up and put it in,” Sutter said. “It’s always a big goal when you kill a penalty and get one of those.
“It definitely gave us the momentum and, hopefully, carries into Friday night.”
That’s when the Penguins have a chance to close out the series in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.