If the Penguins and New York Rangers could have borrowed a possession arrow from basketball, there’s little doubt which team it would have been pointing toward Thursday.
The Penguins were sitting on three wins in a row, including Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden, giving them a commanding, 3-1 lead in the second-round playoff series. They can clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference final as soon as tonight, when Game 5 will be played at Consol Energy Center.
“We have an opportunity back here in Game 5, and we have to be as desperate as we’ve been all playoffs long to try to get that fourth win here at home,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on the day between games.
The Rangers, meanwhile, were between still reeling from their giveaway-filled, 4-2 loss in Game 4 — goaltender Henrik Lundqvist called it “absolutely brutal” after practice Thursday — and steeling themselves to avoid elimination.
“We win Game 1. We are on top of the world,” New York center Brad Richards said. “You lose three in a row, and, as quickly as it went that way, it can go right back. The bounces, momentum, all that stuff can go back in our favor.”
The hole is pretty deep for the Rangers, who had a players-only meeting after the Wednesday night game.
After losing the series opener, 3-2, in overtime, the Penguins have outscored the Rangers, 9-2, including two shutouts. They have killed all 15 Rangers power plays. They have produced some back-breaking goals.
While Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have broken out of goal slumps, New York winger Rich Nash, who led his team with 26 goals in the regular season, has not scored this postseason.
Nash called the loss Wednesday “stunning.”
The Penguins found it satisfying.
In the first round of this postseason, the Penguins lost Game 4 against Columbus to tie that series, 2-2. Bylsma said this time going into Game 4 this round, his team focused on the fact that the fallout of Game 4 would be “either 2-2 or 3-1 [in the series], and we wanted it. We didn’t want to wait and see how that game was going to turn out and make it a best-of-three.
“We were able to win that third game, and now it’s almost the same situation. We don’t want to give them any life. We don’t want to give them any opportunity. We have the ability coming back here at Consol, with our fans in our building, to get the fourth win.”
Crosby thought the Penguins set a good example for themselves with the way they played in Game 4.
“We know they are going to be desperate,” he said of the Rangers. “We have seen at different points in this series that they have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who can create things, so we have to have the same mentality that we had [in Game 4].
“We went after them and didn’t sit back.”
Anything less than that tonight, and the Rangers could force a Game 6 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s now or never,” Lundqvist said. “We have to leave everything we’ve got out there. There’s no other way around it.
“It’s definitely not over.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.