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Pens/Rangers Game 3 Recap: Pittsburgh avoids collapse, pulls out late win

Evan Rodrigues and Danton Heinen step up and help the Penguins to a 2-1 series lead over New York following a Game 3 win for the ages

NHL: MAY 07 Playoffs Round 1 Game 3 - Rangers at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the Penguins’ slogans adopted from an old Mike Lange saying is, “you’ve got to be here to believe it”. You had to be around to believe a wild Game 3 against the Rangers that had several shocking moments. Pittsburgh finally finished chances on Igor Shesterkin, only to blow a three-goal lead. Yet it would be the Pens who found a goal in the third period to win a crucial game and give them a 2-1 series lead.

The first period belonged to the Penguins, who finally pierced the NHL’s best goalie and touched him up for four goals in the opening 20. Brock McGinn got festivities started just 1:57 into the contest when he chipped a puck into the net. Defender Justin Braun had bumped the net off its moorings, but after a review it was ruled to be a good goal and give the Pens their first lead of the series.

The Rangers responded just a few minutes later, when they would take advantage of a play on the rush. Alexis Lafreniere dished a nice pass over that Kaapo Kakko buried to the top shelf on Louis Domingue to tie the score at 1-1.

At this point, the rest of the period would become the Evan Rodrigues show. At the tail end of a power play Rodrigues made his first impact, firing a shot from distance that officially it looks like will stay credited as a Jeff Carter goal from in front. Regardless, it gave the Pens a 2-1 lead.

Less than two minutes later, there would be another Pittsburgh power play, and after failure of the top group, again it was Rodrigues to pick up the pieces and deposit a puck past Igor Shesterkin to extend the lead to 3-1.

The Rangers couldn’t escape the first without Rodrigues doing more damage. Brian Boyle played some big boy hockey and bullied a Ranger to the ice and was able to get the puck off the wall and over for Rodrigues. Rodrigues pulled the puck in and unleashed a shot that just beat Shesterkin clean as day to send Pittsburgh to a shocking 4-1 lead just 15:15 into the game.

After a stunning first period, the Rangers would regroup. They would sit Shesterkin in favor of backup Alexandar Georgiev in part of their efforts to wake the team up. Those efforts clearly worked.

New York racked up the first 11 shots of the game and the Penguins looked increasingly shaky as the period rolled along. And as the period went along, that nice, big lead the home team built up got chipped completely away.

Frank Vatrano would get the ball rolling for NY, he took a great pass from Chris Kreider that just saucered right over Mike Matheson’s stick and Vatrano quickly wired a hard shot by Domingue. 4-2 with NYR feeling some life.

They would keep it going, after a long shift in Pittsburgh’s zone, Artemi Panarin had plenty of time to pick a spot and he whizzed a shot right over the glove side of Domingue to get the score back to 4-3.

The Rangers would complete their comeback with a complete meltdown by Kris Letang, while the Pens were on the power play. Letang’s outlet pass attempt got broken up by Kevin Rooney, with the puck fluttering in the air and Letang somehow losing his stick in the process. Rooney got a shot on net that Domingue couldn’t handle, and another fluttering puck was punched into the open net by Andrew Copp after Domingue slid right on out of the crease. Ugly, ugly stuff as the Rangers claw back to a 4-4 tie.

Fortunately, with an intermission came the chance for Pittsburgh to regroup this time around, after a shocking flash 4-1 lead ended up as a 4-4 tie.

It would seem to work, the Pens steadied themselves. They had to endure six minutes of NYR power play time (zomg, refs y u call penalties against Pittsburgh!) from the end of the second into the third, including two Danton Heinen offensive zone minors.

Heinen would prove to redeem himself for these transgressions when he scored the go-ahead goal with 8:58 remaining in the game, after just getting a low rolling puck on net.

The score would remain like this until Jake Guentzel nailed a long distance empty netter to give the Pens some breathing room. Jeff Carter would tack on another, just for good measure and to set the final score at 7-4.

Some thoughts

  • What a whirlwind of emotions. Shesterkin’s goals saved above average all year has been through the roof. Teams almost never get anything easy on him. The almost immediate goal (with his own guy knocking the net off) seemed to rattle Shesterkin, he never really got in a groove after that and was fighting the puck all game long. Well, for as long as he lasted anyways. It’s a funny game like that where even the best goalie can have an off night, and it’s not pretty.
  • Speaking of not pretty, the Pens’ first power play group didn’t score a goal, and got scored on. Luckily for the overall power play, Rodrigues bailed them out by creating two PPG. The top group right now is in bad, bad shape. The Rangers have an aggressive PK, and as we’ve written here several times, they have very good players who PK (Kreider, Zibanejad, Fox and Copp — who scored tonight while shorthanded). It’s weird that it’s a bad matchup, but it’s a bad matchup with Pittsburgh’s puck management decisions and general malaise away from the puck.
  • Rodrigues stepping up was crucial to winning this game. Heinen as well. Teams that win in the playoffs have third and fourth line guys that step up in key moments. Those two did so in a big way tonight.
  • The good and bad about Boyle was on display in this game. His lack of foot-speed was exposed on NYR’s first goal when he got skated right by. Yet, Boyle stuck with it, and his hit and forecheck created Rodrigues’ second goal, which was badly, badly needed. With a 37-year old big slow forward, sometimes it’s going to be good, sometimes bad.
  • Domingue was in hold on mode in this one. He’s given up nine goals now in Games 2+3. Not everything has been his fault, with some of the shaky defense in front of him at times, but the Pens really have to play better to give their goalie and themselves a chance. They can’t let the Panarin’s and Vatrano’s just tee off on Domingue, or the puck is likely going to go in the net.
  • That said, in the sequence before Heinen’s go ahead goal in the third, Domingue did make a very good save. He battled just enough, even after the collapse, to be composed enough to get ready for the next shot. There’s a certain amount of respect for that.
  • And with respect, I don’t know how many goals Jason Zucker is going to score this series or spring in general. It wouldn’t be surprising if his groin/core just gave out on any shift. But dammed if Zucker isn’t going to go out there and fly around, throw the body around and give it his all. Zucker was credited with a team-high seven hits in this game. Who knows how much he has left to give, even if it’s just energy, but he is definitely going to give whatever he’s got.
  • Letang had a very rough game, and even before the PP debacle, the Matheson-Letang pair looked poor on two goals against. The absence of like 2016-21 era Brian Dumoulin looms VERY large right now. Who knows if that guy exists or can even play at all in the near future, but this pair is a genuine cause for concern right now.

The Pens now have two “one goal” wins this series (before the empty nets tonight). There’s something to be said about battling and coming out on top. It wasn’t pretty tonight after blowing a huge lead, but were able to find the most crucial goal in the third period. And that gives Pittsburgh a series lead after three games.