Penguins fall short to Rangers again, 3-1, to force Game 7 Tuesday



NEW YORK -- The Penguins will be playing for a spot in the Eastern Conference final Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

And there might be more than just a place in Round 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs at stake.

Like jobs.

Quite possibly, a lot of them.

New York beat the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference second-round playoff series Sunday night at Madison Square Garden to tie the series, 3-3, and force a seventh game.

Should the Rangers win Game 7, which will begin at 7:10 p.m., it will mark the fifth consecutive year the Penguins' season was ended by a lower-seeded opponent.

That's a reality ownership and upper management, which has been exceptionally patient to this point, won't necessarily overlook again.

Another premature departure figures to greatly enhance the chances of changes to the coaching staff and/or a major overhaul of the roster before the start of training camp.

The franchise's long-range plans, however, weren't much of a conversation-starter in the Penguins' locker room after Game 6.

Players there were more focused on what it will take to extend their season more than a couple of days.

Like getting production from a power play that has gone 1 for 19 against the Rangers.

READ about Penguins' struggles on power-play chances

And not allowing games to be over almost before they get started; New York has taken a 2-0 lead in the first period of every game it has won in this series.

Letting a team with a goaltender the caliber of Henrik Lundqvist play from ahead like that is a pretty formula for failure.

"We need a better start," right winger Craig Adams said. "Aside from the first 10 minutes, it was a fairly even game.

"We ended up getting close to 40 shots [37] and generating enough chances. But when you're down, 2-0, it's sometimes not going to be enough."

It obviously wasn't in Game 6, when the Rangers won a potential elimination game at the Garden for the sixth consecutive time. They have not had a playoff run end on home ice since 2007.

The Penguins earned home ice for Game 7 by virtue of finishing ahead of New York in the regular-season standings, but are just 2-6 in Game 7s played at home. Those victories came against New Jersey in 1991 and Washington in 1995.

The Penguins actually have had far more Game 7 success on the road, where they are 5-0.

If the Penguins lose Game 7, it will be the second time in four postseasons they have failed to win a series in which they built a 3-1 lead. It happened in Round 1 against Tampa Bay in 2011.

New York, meanwhile, will be trying to win a series in which it faced a 3-1 deficit for the first time in franchise history. This is the 17th time the Rangers have lost three of the first four games in a best-of-seven, but just the second -- and the first since 1939 -- in which they have forced a Game 7.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma likely will consider some personnel moves for Game 7, and publicly floated the idea of separating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who have been linemates for much of this series.

Returning Malkin to his usual spot as the second-line center might help to jump-start right winger James Neal, who has matched Crosby's modest output of one goal and two assists in this series.

It wasn't long after Crosby and Malkin completed their first shift together in Game 6 that New York went in front to stay, as the rebound of a shot by Rangers center Derek Stepan hit teammate Martin St. Louis and went across the goal line at 3:34.

The goal was completely inadvertent, but the Rangers surge it sparked was real, and Carl Hagelin put New York up, 2-0, when he threw a backhander past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from inside the left dot at 6:25. "We put ourselves in a bad position early on," Crosby said.

It improved slightly when Penguins center Brandon Sutter got a lucky-bounce goal at 16:56, but any realistic comeback hopes they had disappeared when Derick Brassard of the Rangers swept a puck from the crease into the net at 15:30 of the second.

And so the Penguins will be playing a Game 7 they desperately wanted to avoid. A game in which a season -- and plenty of jobs -- could be lost because of a single bad bounce or mental lapse.

A game in which the margin for error is non-existent.

"All Game 7s are big," Crosby said. "We can't change what has gotten us to this point.

"All we can do is make sure we show up for Game 7."

And to try to get there early.

 

MORE on the Penguins: Olli Maatta plays after all


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 11, 2014 9:51 PM

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