|This is me, and this is my brain during the Stanley Cup playoffs|
(photo from the movie "Scanners")
The Pittsburgh Penguins, fresh off of their 4-3 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday night, looked to take the lead in the two teams' opening round series during Monday night's Game 3 at the Consol Energy Center.
The Pens were able to break New York's 4 game post-season winning streak (going back to last year) behind the two goals of Sidney Crosby and yet another excellent game from Marc-Andre Fleury.
The difference in Game 2 was special teams, with Pittsburgh converting 2 of 3 power-play chances and with the Rangers only able to connect on 1 of 7 man-advantage opportunities.
The Pens were looking to take fewer penalties- and continue their five periods of dominance over New York- while building upon their strong 4th line play.
Beau "The Invisible Man" Bennett was scratched by the Penguins in favor of Wilkes-Barre contributor Scott Wilson.
Fleury and Lundqvist would once again occupy the nets for their respective teams.
First Period Action:
Unfortunately, Ian Cole didn't get the "Don't Take Penalties" memo, and just three minutes into the affair, #28 was whistled off for an obvious (and totally unnecessary) cross check.
This put the Rangers PP back on the ice, and despite their numerical struggles (2 for 12), New York had collected a power-play goal in Games 1 and 2.
The Rangers couldn't muster any momentum, and after repeated clears, New York's man-advantage ended with nary a shot on net.
New York's first line would look like they were on the power-play a few minutes later, as the Pens were hemmed deep and Fleury had to stop Dan Boyle from 4 feet away (this coming after the Flower denied Rick Nash on a wrap-around attempt).
Pittsburgh was finally able to clear, and Fleury stopped play (and the Rangers' momentum) when he flagged down and held a weak tip by Martin St. Louis.
Moments after Crosby was interfered with on a dump and chase (so much for the officials calling interference), the Pens committed a brutal line change, and Public Enemy #1 Carl Hagelin took a Keith Yandle stretch pass and blasted a slap-shot past Fleury to stake New York to a 1-0 lead.
Pittsburgh, from the top (Mario Lemieux) on down (...Craig Adams?), has an organizational preference for playing a skill game instead of the trap game. While the team's emphasis on playing hockey "the right way" (an up tempo showcase of offensive skill and creativity) is admirable, the Pens are verifiable sitting ducks if their skill players are interfered with in the neutral zone and can't cross the blue line.
Nick Spaling was similarly interfered with on a subsequent possession, but Pittsburgh would get their own power-play chance when Rick Nash took an odd offensive zone high-sticking penalty (odd in that he high-sticked Crosby away from the puck).
|Patric Hornqvist's preferred ring entrance music, as per...me.|
The Rangers would kill the penalty with nominal effort, and the Pens wouldn't get their first shot on goal until 16 minutes when Ben Lovejoy launched a slapper from 80 feet out (easily handled by Lundqvist), but New York's subsequent attempt to clear was interrupted in the form of Patric "Freight Train" Hornqvist.
Hornqvist separated the puck from the Ranger player, and a tic-and-a-tac later, Sidney Crosby whistled a shot past Lundqvist, only to find the right post.
As the period wore on, Pittsburgh was clearly applying the pressure. Hornqvist in particular was causing havoc with a strong and aggressive forecheck that was forcing the Rangers into hurried clear attempts .
Following a brief New York scoring chance (halted by the Pens' defense and Fleury), the horn sounded with the Rangers leading in shots (13 to 11) and in goals, 1-0.
Second Period Action:
Patric Hornqvist opened the second with what has become his trademark hustle, ultimately forcing a turnover that yielded nothing.
Speaking of yielding, the Penguins had another dreadful line change, and with nobody providing any kind of forecheck pressure, the Rangers' riposted with a 2-on-1 scoring chance ultimately denied by Fleury.
During one stoppage of play, Pittsburgh play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald announced that the Penguins' local TV ratings were the highest of all NHL franchises for the sixth consecutive year.
This news is awesome and obliterates the "bandwagon fanbase" argument, but unfortunately, TV ratings don't translate into shots on goal, and so once again, New York was able to continue collapsing in front of Lundqvist and occupying available shooting lanes.
The Rangers would have a great scoring at the 8 minute mark as Ryan McDonagh took a JT Miller cross-ice pass and wristed a shot off of the knob of Fleury's goalie stick, but the puck went skyward and was cleared.
Paul Martin would take the Pens' third penalty of the night (and second cross-checking offense), and oddly enough, being short-handed meant that Maxim Lapierre was on the ice, and this generation's incarnation of Ruslan Fedotenko managed to create offense on the PK again, forcing Lundqvist to make a toe save after a nifty curl-and-drag by Lapierre.
Fleury made a huge save with 21 seconds left in the power-play, as Rick Nash redirected an already-tipped shot from the point directly between the Flower's pads, but #29 was able to hold on.
The Pens wouldn't be able to hold onto their one goal deficit however, as Chris "Don't Call Me Dan" Kreider took a Marc Staal pass off of the end boards and quickly shot it past an adjusting Fleury to give New York the 2-0 lead.
Staal's pass was reminiscent of the dasher passes the Detroit Red Wings used to terrorize Fleury during the 2008 and 2009 Finals.
Hornqvist went crazy on his next shift after the Rangers' goal, going after everyone at every opportunity. The end result was that Kunitz and McDonagh were sent off for coincidental penalties and both teams lined up for 4-on-4 play.
The most notable thing during the next two minutes of open play was Henrik Lundqvist asking "What's my motivation?" before initiating the most dramatic "DIVE, DIVE!" since Sean Connery's Captain Marko Ramius in "The Hunt for Red October."
Lundqvist's flop was so bad even "Waterworld" was offended.
With just over two minutes left in the second stanza, the referees defied all reason and expectations and...wait for it...
|Dear NHL referees: this is how you signal "Interference."|
How's about you practice, and call this more often. Thanks.
To their credit, the fans at the Consol Energy Center responded by giving the officials a standing ovation. Really, what else can be done when the league's own rules have approached farcical proportion?
Blessed with an opportunity to halve their deficit, the Penguins' power-play...did nothing.
The period would end with a few ticks remaining on Nash's penalty, but with no goals on the board.
Third Period Action:
The final period of regulation consisted of a lot more of the same from the New York Rangers: stifling neutral zone play (see: INTERFERENCE) with an Ottoman Empire-style collapse in front of Lundqvist once the Penguins rotated the puck up to the point.
Even when the Pens had a chance and a lane to shoot- as was the case with Brian Dumoulin off of a set play- Pittsburgh deferred, and what could have been at least a shot on net turned into yet another New York clear up ice.
If it seems like I'm skipping over 10 minutes worth of hockey, it's because there's nothing to report.
I had nothing to report, that is, until Patric Hornqvist did what Patric Hornqvist does, and following a mad scramble, #72 deposited a loose puck up and over a down-and-out Lundqvist to make the game 2-1.
The Consol crowd, which had been loud and engaged throughout, erupted. The Pens scored by doing what they had previously been reluctant to do: throwing the puck at the net, letting players jostle around, and getting lucky when a loose puck found Hornqvist's stick.
At its very essence, the NHL playoffs are about "grit" (and no, not the intangible "trade for grit" variety): most post-season goals in the NHL are more about perseverance and effort than pretty passing or pretty shooting.
The goal also seemed to energize Malkin, who seemingly regained the "gallop" that had been missing after his lower-body injury.
Coincidental minors with about 3:30 left put the teams back to a 4-on-4 situation. The Pens managed to hem the Rangers down toward Lundqvist, leaving Ben Lovejoy with so much space and so much time that the fans in the building had time to stand in anticipation.
(Lovejoy shot the puck off of someone's leg and into the corner)
The Pens pulled Fleury with a minute left, and Pittsburgh was able to hold the puck inside the offensive zone despite several New York clear attempts. Despite the possession, nobody was willing to just unload a shot.
The Penguins won the faceoff, but couldn't get the puck through to Lundqvist. As time expired, both teams grabbed ahold of on another, but New York wound up with the 2-1 win and the 2-1 lead in the series.