After six games, the common thread of the Penguins and Rangers is that Pittsburgh pushes and pushes and takes a lead, but then gives it back (and more) at times due to substandard goaltending. The “two steps forward, three steps back” routine continued for the Pens on Friday as they dropped Game 6 to New York.
Minus Sidney Crosby (and Tristan Jarry...and Brian Dumoulin...and Rickard Rakell) the Penguins bravely faced their uphill climb, bolstered by a raucous home crowd at PPG Paints Arena.
The Pens finally got on the board 14:12 into the game, when Igor Shesterkin couldn’t corral a Marcus Pettersson point shot with his glove. The rebound bounced loose for Kasperi Kapanen to throw on goal and remained loose still for Jeff Carter to chip in on the backhand to allow Pittsburgh to score first.
Big Jeff Carter delivers for Penguins fans once again.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 13, 2022
Carter's four goals in Round 1 have all come at PPG Paints Arena. pic.twitter.com/L1JmGKCiTX
The Pens kept their foot on the gas and were rewarded just 1:36 after Carter’s goal with a second goal. Jake Guentzel collected a puck and wheeled around, spotted a wide open Bryan Rust and fired a nice pass over for him. Rust quickly whipped the puck on net to beat Shesterkin and send the fans into a frenzy to make the score 2-0 in the first period.
IN RUST WE TRUST... Especially in elimination games.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 13, 2022
Since entering the league, @rustyyy_92 has scored 11 goals in 23 elimination games (games where Pittsburgh could clinch a series OR was facing elimination). pic.twitter.com/5yQRWh4psK
But no lead has been safe for the Pens all series long, and it only took 1:16 early the second period for Mika Zibanejad to erase it all on his lonesome.
One of the game’s turning points came when Ryan Lindgren dumped Evan Rodrigues into the boards from behind. Naturally, no penalty was called but Rodrigues got up and gave a retaliation shot at Lindgren, which got whistled. Just five seconds later, the Rangers got on the scoreboard and had life when Zibanejad cleanly won a faceoff from Teddy Blueger, sunk into the slot and shot. Louis Domingue was blocked by Kris Letang and couldn’t see it.
With momentum, Zibanejad reminded the audience of the lack of quality in Pittsburgh’s net with a long shot that got in the net to tie the game at 2-2.
The Pens’ offense had their chance with an extended 5v3 power play and timeout used to maximize the energy of the top players, but they didn’t come close to scoring.
New York would use that to jump ahead. With Mike Matheson in the penalty box for a double-minor high-sticking call, the Pens went to change but Shesterkin up-manned a pass for who else but Zibanejad. His hard shot hit Domingue’s glove and sat on a platter for Chris Kreider to smash it in from in front. Tough to blame Domingue for this one, even though in perfect world maybe that puck doesn’t come out of his glove for a rebound chance.
With the Pens on the ropes, who else but Evgeni Malkin was there to send the team a life-line late in the second period? Jacob Trouba attempted a cross-ice d-to-d pass in the zone that Malkin read and poked ahead. From there, Geno outraced K’Andre Miller and quickly fired a shot low to the glove past his countryman Shesterkin to pull the Pens up to a tie.
As the teams battled in the third looking for the go-ahead goal, it would be New York who found it. Kreider shot from outside and, well, Domingue’s trying his best. The shot hits him high, he thinks he’s kept it in front of him, but it’s actually powered up and over him and flutters into the net with 1:28 left.
Andrew Copp tacks on an empty netter in the closing seconds to secure a Game 7 on Sunday and set the final score at 5-3.
- It’s tough to be too harsh, in a very real way the Penguins are in a fight with one hand tied behind their back with a third string goalie, now no Crosby, no Dumoulin and Rakell for the last five games. They have plenty of spunk and are ***right there*** but sometimes that’s just not enough.
- If it’s not crystal clear by now, no lead is safe with Louis Domingue. Yes, he’s overmatched and fighting to stay above water. At times he can get in the way and give the Pens a chance. But he just can’t and isn’t going to keep them above level for a full 60 minutes, minus a total avalanche of goals in the other direction. That’s not meant to be mean or rude, it’s just a fact at this point.
- There is and was some contention about the refs needing to make that call on Rodrigues, which did swing the game. But Mike Sullivan wasn’t doing a death stare at the refs when Rodrigues got out of the box and took the skate of shame back to his bench, the glare was all at Rodrigues. The Pens need to be impeccable. In that moment, weak call or not, Rodrigues wasn’t. It gave life to a lifeless Rangers team.
- Was PPG Paints rocking hardest after that Malkin goal since the Chris Kunitz 2OT Game 7 goal against Ottawa in 2017? The argument could be made. That was such a great play made by Gene to poke the puck ahead, and turn on the jets and then the anticipation built for him to finish. It’s a shame the Pens lost this game for many reasons, but chief among them is that goal to give Pittsburgh a chance in the third would have been right up there in franchise lore for this era.
- Jacob Trouba was on ice for all three Pens’ goals tonight, and looking especially bad on more than one. If that’s not a little wink and a nod from the “hockey gods” as retribution for avoiding punishment for hurting Crosby with a high hit, I don’t know what is.
- Bigger missed opp: the 1:07 on the 5v3? Or Rust skying the Malkin pass from right in front in the third? Either way, both will sting at a time like this.
Blowing multi-goal leads in Game 5 and 6 really stings for the Pens, especially since in many ways they are carrying play and being the better overall team. But their injury-induced weaknesses are very real, and tending to show. It’s tough to wallpaper over for a full 60 minutes, try as the Pens may. But on Sunday they will have one more chance to try again.