The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their 5th overtime game in a row at Consol Energy Center, putting their season on the line for Game 5 on Friday in New York.
It wouldn't be without a struggle, though. The Pens played the New York Rangers the way the Rangers usually play them and got the game's first goal courtesy of a Patric Hornqvist tip on a Ben Lovejoy shot, and the Pens dominated the shots on goal in the first to the tune of 8-2.
Everything looked great through 20, but unfortunately hockey games are 60 and Pittsburgh didn't do much for the rest of the game. They had a few flash chances here and there- Hornqvist driving to the net but Dan Girardi batting a puck by Chris Kunitz with 14 seconds stands out - but otherwise couldn't generate a lot. Per the usual, with an undermanned defensive core, the Pens struggle to get clean zone exits. Toss in the Rangers tough defensive coverage and most of the time shifts end in frustration.
The whole game, in fact, was pretty much a bogged down effort. Tons of icing penalties. Lots of play along the boards. Not a ton of shots. Even fewer scoring chances. NHL playoff hockey these days is a baby so ugly only it's mother could love, and it's mother is seemingly NHL 2003 trap systems and clutch/grab hockey.
That said, the uphill race is still worth fighting. The Pens were right in this game to the very end and had chances to do so, they just couldn't execute before Martin St. Louis stepped off the wall, shrugging off Lovejoy and throwing the puck through the crease and Marc-Andre Fleury but the puck hit Kevin Hayes' skate and clicked to Carl Hagelin. Hagelin passed back to Hayes, back through Fleury and Hayes made space against Paul Martin and shot the puck in for the game winner.
Series is 3-1 Rangers.
Hey, it was 3-1 Penguins last year, right?
A few more passing thoughts on the game:
- Evgeni Malkin registered a shot on goal in this game, as in 1 singular weak backhanded shot. It's clear he is not 100% - but curiously he has been very good on faceoffs in this series (winning 10 of his 16 for a team high 63%). According to the NBC broadcast, tonight's shot was Malkin's first in 130+ minutes played.First and foremost he has to get going.
- The Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Hornqvist line is the best thing the Pens have going. Specifically, Hornqvist, who seemingly all chances/goals are running through these days. It almost looked like this line was going to will the team to victory, and at this rate they might have to.
- The well examined penalty battle was 3 to 3 tonight, with the refs pocketing the whistles for good 4:52 into the second period.
- Both of these power plays stink, as if each is trying to look sloppier and have less identity than the other. Tough to say which one is doing a better bad job. Maybe NYR, but not by much.
- The teams combined for 47 shots on goal and 36 blocked shots. One of those kinds of gritty, ugly, dirty, unpleasant, tough, rough, you-choose-the-adjective type of games with little coming easily.
- Somehow Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin are escaping disaster. They're playing low minutes and only being put in situations to help (good zone starts, favorable competition) but oh boy, not an NHL caliber defense right now, and the Pens are lucky to not get burned yet. And credit those guys for hanging in their and doing what they can.
- In fact, both goals came against the Paul Martin - Ben Lovejoy top pair. The OT game winner came with both guys 1+ minute deep on shifts. Just have to have shorter shifts in OT than that, but what can you do at this point?
- Scott Wilson, on the other hand, has shown some good positioning, wheels, smarts and has made a couple of nice little plays. Nice little plays don't win games, but it's encouraging and been a long time since the Pens have had a young forward who actually looks competent at the NHL level. Wilson has no experience, and a long way to go, but nice to see him play well.
- No truth to the latest mock drafts that the New York Jets will draft Ryan McDonagh with the 6th overall pick in next week's NFL draft. McDonagh has made more tackles then anyone on their team though, so he could be more of a late round pick.
The Pens are playing an uphill battle with an undermanned team, maybe the threat of a truly must win game will inspire them. Perhaps they'll play without fear and leave it all out there. Or maybe they'll just wither away and bow out in 5. Anything is a possibility, but at this point, tough to be too upset as a fan. The Penguins are trying, and they're actually doing pretty well, but are playing a tough and good opponent with a great goalie.
Shame this series isn't 2-2 right now- being as they've all been one goal games, but it's 3-1 Rangers. Hopefully the Pens can make it 3-2 after next game and earn themselves another home game. And then win that and force a Game 7, if we're getting greedy. But one step at a time.