Adam Williams The Hockey Writers
Three Keys for the Penguins to Even Up Series at Home
Game Three saw the Penguins’ comeback effort in the third period fall short as the New York Rangers took a 2-1 series lead, winning the game by the same score. While the Penguins jump and persistence in the third period was at times overwhelming for the Rangers, it was the Penguins poor start that ultimately led to their downfall.
The Rangers will look to go up two games in the series by taking both games at Consol Energy Center. If the Penguins are down 3-1 heading back to New York, it is safe to say that the uphill battle will be quite steep. However, if the Penguins can tie the series once again, it turns into a best of three.
While we forecast the future, let’s look at tonight’s three keys in order for the future to form.
It’s been said for the first three games of the series, but it needs to be harped on. The Penguins have been short-handed 14 times in the first three games, a number that is simply unacceptable. While the penalty killers have been stellar thus far, can their performance continue? Why risk it.
Granted, the referees have been in question since Game One. Any Pittsburgh faithful will say that the refs are out to get the Penguins, that the referees are wearing blue shirts rather than black and white, or some other phrase to pin the blame on the officials.
Some may even have a point.
When you look back on the two goals scored by the Rangers, they were both shortly after a missed penalty call. Carl Hagelin’s breakaway slapshot goal in the first period came after a blown call, but let’s not forget how awful the Penguins line change was.
Probably the most obvious and missed call was the hooking penalty on Maxim Lapierre in the second period during the end of a penalty kill. Lapierre was streaking up the neutral zone, was turned by the stick of a Rangers’ backchecker and nothing was called. Moments later, Chris Kreider bunted in the game-winning goal.
The Rangers have taken advantage of the way the games have been called, there is no denying that, yet there is no faulting them for that either. But, to avoid these situations, it would be best for the Penguins to take less penalties and attempt to play the Rangers five-on-five.
The Penguins have been scored on first in each of the first three games. Despite the win in Game Two, the Penguins have not had a solid opening twenty, or even forty in the case of Game Three. If the Penguins can carry over their fight from the third period of Monday’s contest and start with that intensity from the get-go, one has to believe that they will put up a bit more of a fight.
Players that came to life in that period include, but are not limited to, David Perron, Evgeni Malkin, and Patric Hornqvist.
Perron and Malkin were gaining chemistry as the night went on and while they still have not gotten on the board, their opportunities are coming. Perron had countless shots blocked and for some reason, Malkin is not shooting the puck. It’s as if he’s scared to. For the Penguins to be successful, that second line needs to contribute.
In Game One, the fourth line shined bright. Game Two was the first line of Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist. Game Three saw some life in the second line. Game Four needs at least two of these lines to be dominant and not just one.
Marc-Andre Fleury was voted the Penguins’ team MVP this season and is continuing his strong play. If it were not for Fleury, this series could easily be 3-0 in favor of the Rangers. It is becoming redundant and almost annoying to keep suggesting that Fleury is the key for the Penguins’ playoff run, but it is true.
Just because the record’s broken does not make it any less true.
When the team is not scoring goals, giving up odd man chances, and taking penalty after penalty, Fleury is put in the position where he needs to steal the show.
These three keys to their success are eerily similar to my list for Game Three, but can one argue? These are the changes needed for this team to succeed.
The playoffs are always a stressful time and the best teams find ways to win. The Penguins need to get a better start, play like they did for the final twenty minutes of Monday night, and slow down the Rangers transition game. If the Penguins want to race and trade chances with the Rangers, Game Four will not lean in favor of the home team.
However, if the Penguins can adopt these three keys and mesh them all together, one has to like their chances of evening up the series again.
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