Penguins need Garden-variety effort again in Game 6
May 10, 2014 10:21 PM
Chris Kunitz, left, and Evgeni Malkin skate to the bench after the Rangers scored their second goal of Game 5 Friday night at Consol Energy Center. The night only got worse.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- Long ago, Madison Square Garden was labeled "The World's Most Famous Arena."
Perhaps because someone determined that calling it "The Most Penguins-Friendly Building In The Entire NHL" wasn't quite as catchy.
That doesn't mean it wouldn't have been entirely accurate.
After all, the Penguins will enter Game 6 of their second-round playoff series tonight at the Garden with an all-time playoff record of 9-2 there.
That includes victories last week in Games 3 and 4, which is the primary reason the Penguins own a 3-2 lead in the series and can lock up a spot in the Eastern Conference final by beating the Rangers tonight.
Matchup: Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 7:10 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden.
TV, Radio: NBC Sports Network, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
Penguins: Have won seven of their past nine games in Manhattan, including the regular season. ... C Evgeni Malkin has seven goals in 10 career playoff games against the Rangers. ... Own all-time record of 8-9 in Game 6s played on the road.
Rangers: Scored as many goals in their 5-1 victory in Game 5 as they had in the previous four combined. ... Three of C Chris Kreider's seven career playoff goals have been scored on the power play. ... Have gotten more than three goals only once in a home playoff game against the Penguins.
Hidden stat: The Penguins have gotten the first goal in all but one of their 11 all-time playoff games at Madison Square Garden.
So while, say, Marc-Andre Fleury's 35-save performance in a 2-0 Game 3 shutout Monday won't have a direct impact on anything that transpires tonight, the Penguins' history of success at the Garden can't hurt their collective confidence entering Game 6.
"It's a new game," Penguins forward Brian Gibbons said. "But it's nice to know you can win there."
Of course, the key to winning is performance, not precedent, and the Penguins' play in Games 3 and 4 was far more impressive than in a 5-1 loss Friday night at Consol Energy Center, where they played like a group most interested in collecting another couple of days' per diem for going back on the road.
"I don't want to say we weren't ready to play that game," coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday. "But we had some unforced errors, and they took full [advantage] of them."
The Rangers faced elimination in Game 5, and played like it. The Penguins, conversely, played like guys who had other plans for the night.
"After the first couple of shifts, you could see that they had it going on," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "They were playing like a team whose season was on the brink.
"Sometimes, that's OK for a couple of shifts and you're waiting for a pushback from us, and it just didn't happen."
Not much did happen for the Penguins in Game 5, in part because the Rangers elevated their game to a level it hadn't reached in the previous four games.
"We skated again," New York center Brad Richards said. "We didn't skate in Game 4. When you don't skate, you look lazy and sloppy and the effort's not there.
"[In Game 5], we skated and took away a lot of the thinking. Just see what happens, you know? Get on them and try to get them on their heels."
New York got the Penguins on their heels on the first shift of the game, and had them flat on their backs before the end of the second period.
"We talked about them playing well, which they did," Bylsma said.
"But a lot of their opportunities were gift-wrapped by us."
That didn't happen often in Games 3 and 4, particularly the latter, in which the Penguins limited New York to 15 shots on goal.
"We did a much better job defensively [at the Garden]," Penguins winger Lee Stempniak said. "We were able to establish a forecheck and play in their end a lot more.
"Doing that, you don't have to defend as much, you don't see as many shots against, as many chances against."
The Rangers, though, weren't on the cusp of the offseason for the previous games at the Garden. They reminded the Penguins what they are capable of Friday night, setting a standard of effort and execution the Penguins will be challenged to match in Game 6.
"We should realize they're going to be at their very best again," Bylsma said.
The Penguins also must recognize that it wouldn't be a bad time to infuse their game with a little of the urgency that was so glaringly absent in Game 5.
"I hope that with another loss, closer to the end of your season, we step it up a little bit," Scuderi said.
Mind you, if the Penguins lose tonight, they still will have the safety net of a Game 7 Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.
They clearly don't want to have their season distilled to a 60-minute crapshoot, though. Especially when they have won just two of the eight Game 7s on home ice in franchise history.
"We can't look at it as two opportunities [to clinch the series]," Bylsma said. "We only have one at this point in time, and it's Game 6."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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