The table was set, or so it seemed.
The Penguins were down by a couple of goals Friday night when Evgeni Malkin scored on a spectacular effort.
The roof nearly came off of Consol Energy Center.
"He's one of the best in the world when he has that puck," Penguins center Marcel Goc said.
But the Penguins didn't respond as might have been expected -- or at least as well as might have been expected. Instead of using Malkin's goal as a catalyst to pull even or ahead, they watched the New York Rangers pull away for a 5-1 victory in Game 5 of this Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
With a win, the Penguins would have eliminated the Rangers and clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference final. As it is, the teams will travel to New York for Game 6 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers came out with an expected push in the first period, and the Penguins didn't match it. By the end of the first, New York led, 2-0, and in shots, 17-9.
One of the lone bright spots for the Penguins in the first period was a long, skill-laden rush by Malkin, who seemed to easily maneuver around several New York players as he weaved through the neutral zone and over the blue line. He carried the puck behind the Rangers net and got it to Goc at the top of the crease, but goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped Goc.
"If I can contribute on one of the chances I had, maybe it's a different game, but it didn't work," Goc said.
In the second period, Malkin again attacked on offense in a way that seemed to indicate that he wanted to take control of the game for his team.
He took a feed ahead from defenseman Kris Letang and skated over the blue line into the Rangers end -- only to be confronted by defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Girardi bumped Malkin off the puck, but Malkin reached around and regained possession.
Lundqvist stopped Malkin's initial shot, but Malkin got the rebound and scored from a severe angle along the extended goal line to Lundqvist's left to make it 2-1 at 3:23 of the second.
"[Malkin] made an unbelievable goal. Nice effort by him," Goc said. "It almost seemed like the play was already over, then he grabs it and the next thing you know it's in the net."
The decibel level in the building went sky-high, and the Penguins felt the rush.
"It definitely brings you to your feet and brings a lot of energy to the bench -- to the building, too," winger Lee Stempniak said.
It seemed there was anticipation in the air that the Penguins would parlay that adrenaline into a flurry of offense and perhaps their fourth comeback win of this postseason.
"I think it did," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We get the next three scoring chances. We get the next four shots. I felt we were pushing right there."
Lundqvist, who made 31 saves, helped preserve the Rangers' lead, and then things took another turn.
Instead of catching a spark from Malkin's goal in a tangible way and riding it into the next round, the Penguins gave up two goals in 50 seconds -- Derick Brassard's second of the game at 7:58, and a power-play blast by Ryan McDonagh at 8:48.
That made it 4-1. The Penguins were done scoring. New York added an empty-net goal.
Malkin's highlight-reel goal was his sixth of the playoffs, tying him with teammate Jussi Jokinen and Los Angeles' Marion Gaborik for the NHL lead. It also increased his team-leading points total to 13.
"He's capable of making those plays, and those are difference-makers," Stempniak said. "I think that falls on us as a group to be better and rally around that emotion.
"He's been playing really well the last handful of games. Once he gets the puck and gets to open space, he's extremely dangerous. When he's playing like that, you want to capitalize on those opportunities, especially when he's making plays like that."
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.