(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers will fight to keep their season alive Friday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Pittsburgh has pushed the Rangers to the brink of elimination as the Penguins hold a 3-1 advantage after dropping the first game of the series in overtime. Since losing Game 1 in the Steel City, the Pens have rattled off three straight wins, outscoring New York by a combined 9-2 margin along the way.
After getting shut out by Marc-Andre Fleury in Games 2 and 3, New York was able to score twice in Wednesday's meeting in Manhattan but it wasn't enough to even the series. Instead, the Penguins earned a 4-2 decision to grab a commanding lead in the best-of-seven set and give them a chance to end the series tonight on home ice.
New York has won seven of its last nine games when facing elimination, including two of four on the road. Pittsburgh, however, is 9-2 all-time in series when holding a 3-1 lead. The last time the Penguins blew a 3-1 lead was in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Tampa Bay when both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were injured and missed the series.
New York halted a scoring drought at 145 minutes, 30 seconds on Carl Hagelin's goal early in the second period of Game 4, but the club continued to struggle on the power play. The Rangers went 0-for-2 with the man advantage on Wednesday and have now failed on 36 straight power-play chances. The last power-play goal for the Rangers came in Game 2 of their first-round victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We haven't earned it enough, we haven't executed enough," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said of his team's overall effort in this series. "We have looks, can't finish, and haven't made it hard on the goalie and are not capitalizing on the chances we are given. We have to play better on all areas of the ice (Friday)."
The club's power-play situation plumbed new depths in Game 4, with New York not only failing to score on the man advantage once again but the Rangers also allowed a shorthanded goal to Brandon Sutter late in the second period. Sutter's tally made it 2-1 with 1:33 remaining in the period and Pittsburgh would hold a lead the rest of the way.
Malkin contributed a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, while Chris Kunitz and Jussi Jokinen also lit the lamp to help the Pens grab a commanding series lead.
Crosby added two assists in the game and Pittsburgh's captain has nine points in the playoffs. Malkin leads the team with 12 points (5g, 7a).
Fleury, who in Games 3 and 4 became the first Penguins goalie to record back- to-back playoff shutouts, only needed to make 13 saves for Wednesday's victory. The 15 shots allowed by Pittsburgh in Game 4 were the fewest surrendered in a playoff game in franchise history.
"It's a nice cushion you know, but nothing's done," said Fleury. "It's fun for now, it's a nice win. But get back at it Friday."
Pittsburgh did lose Brooks Orpik once again after the defenseman returned from a five-game absence due to an undisclosed injury. Orpik was hurt Wednesday after colliding with Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello late in the first period and did not return.
If Orpik is unable to go in Game 5, Robert Bortuzzo expects to take his place in the lineup. Bortuzzo had an assist and was a plus-2 while filling in for Orpik in five games during this postseason.
Zuccarello scored in the third period for New York and Henrik Lundqvist gave up all four goals on 27 shots.
New York head coach Alain Vigneault blamed the Game 4 loss largely on his team's carelessness with the puck.
"We didn't pick a good night to manage the puck the way we did tonight," said Vigneault. "I don't want to take any credit against Pittsburgh, they forced the play and they played a real solid game without the puck that obviously forced us into a lot of those turnovers."
The Rangers had speedy forward Chris Kreider in the lineup for the first time since late March in Game 4, and the 23-year-old experienced some ups and downs. Kreider, who returned after recovering from surgery to his left hand, had one shot on net and was a minus-one after logging 15:24 of ice time.
"I felt good one shift, rusty the next, good for a shift, rusty the next," Kreider said. "I'm excited to play the next one because we have another opportunity. Whenever a team goes deep into this thing they always face some adversity, and that's what we've got right here. This is an opportunity to see what we are made of. It's gut-check time."
Rangers forward Martin St. Louis is questionable for Game 5. The veteran winger's mother passed away on Thursday and his status for tonight's contest is unknown.
If New York is able to win Friday's game in the Steel City, it will host Game 6 on Sunday.
New York is aiming for its first playoff series win against Pittsburgh, which has won all four previous postseason meetings. The Pens boast a 19-5 all-time record against the Rangers in the playoffs and are 10-3 as the home team.