(SportsNetwork.com) – In a series where the individual battles have been
extremely close, the New York Rangers still have a chance to make quick work
of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers will get their first chance to eliminate the Penguins on Friday
when the clubs meet for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
Each of the first four games of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal have been
decided by just one goal. The clubs went to overtime in the last encounter on
Wednesday and New York ended up claiming a 2-1 win after Kevin Hayes tallied
just 3:14 into the extra session.
It was the third game to end with a 2-1 score, all of which have been New York
victories. Pittsburgh’s lone win came in a 4-3 decision on Saturday when the
clubs last met at Madison Square Garden for Game 2 of the best-of-seven set.
This marks the first time the Rangers have won three playoff games in one
series when scoring two or fewer goals since the 1928 finals against the
Hayes’ first career postseason goal was a big one, as it put the Blueshirts
one step away from advancing to the second round. The top-seeded Rangers have
made it out of the first round in the last three postseasons and last spring
they made a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in five games against
New York boasts a 13-1 series record all-time when leading a playoff series
three games to one. If Pittsburgh wins tonight, the clubs will meet on Sunday
for Game 6 in the Steel City.
In the extra session, Martin St. Louis tracked down the puck behind the net
and sent it into the slot. Carl Hagelin located the disc and backhanded it
through the crease and under Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to Hayes,
who tapped it in to seal the win.
“It was a cool experience and will be a memorable one for sure,” Hayes said of
his goal. “I was just happy to be able to help the team win.”
Hayes is the first Rangers rookie to score a playoff overtime goal on the road
and is also the first New York player to score his first playoff goal in
overtime since Don Murdoch on April 13, 1978. The Boston College product
recorded 17 goals during his first NHL campaign in 2014-15.
Derick Brassard scored his third goal of the postseason and Henrik Lundqvist
made 22 saves in another strong performance between the pipes for the Rangers.
“This has been a pretty competitive series so far,” New York head coach Alain
Vigneault said. “We’ve taken every game one game at a time and that’s what we
are going to do Friday.”
Patric Hornqvist supplied Pittsburgh’s lone goal and Fleury stopped 22 shots
for the Penguins, who have lost their last six overtime playoff games.
Pittsburgh’s last playoff overtime victory was a 4-3 decision over the New
York Islanders on May 11, 2013.
“It’s disappointing,” Fleury said. “We played a solid game and we were home in
front our fans. It’s a tough one to lose.”
The Penguins have come back from 3-1 deficits to win a series twice in their
history and both times came against the Washington Capitals in 1992 and ’95.
New York, of course, pulled off the 3-1 comeback against Pittsburgh in last
year’s conference semifinals.
If Pittsburgh is going to rally for a series win, however, it is likely going
to need some production from forward Evgeni Malkin, who has yet to register a
point in this series. The centerman has gone nine straight games without
reaching the scoresheet dating back to the regular season.
Penguins forward Beau Bennett has missed the last two games with an upper-body
injury, but could play tonight. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot has sat out six in
a row for Pittsburgh dating back to the regular season with an upper-body
issue and is questionable for Game 5.
Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein was cleared to practice with the team earlier
this week, but is still waiting to return from breaking his arm on March 11.
Vigneault said the defenseman has a “50/50” shot at playing on Friday night.
After storming back to defeat Pittsburgh in last season’s playoffs, the
Rangers posted a 3-0-1 record in four meetings during the 2014-15 season
series. New York outscored the Pens by a 16-8 margin during the regular
New York’s seven-game series’ win over the Pens last season marked the club’s
first-ever victory over Pittsburgh in the postseason. The Rangers had lost the
previous four encounters before charging back to defeat Pittsburgh a year ago.