The Pittsburgh Penguins might have been the NHL's hottest team at the end of the regular season, playing the last month with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup with an arm injury.
Well he's back for the playoffs, and flashing his old brilliance.
Malkin scored two goals and set up two others and the Penguins pushed the New York Rangers to the brink of playoff elimination with a 5-0 victory Thursday night.
"I think he took another big step tonight," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought his timing was better. He's getting stronger. His conditioning is getting better with each game he's played. That is, quite honestly, what we expected to go through with Geno."
Malkin, who tied his postseason high with the four points, assisted on two of the Penguins' three first-period goals in helping Pittsburgh dominate the Rangers for the second consecutive game and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round series.
Sidney Crosby, who added two assists, and the red-hot Penguins can wrap up things in Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who returned to the lineup for Game 3, made 31 saves in posting his first playoff shutout.
Malkin wondered what his role would be on a team that was playing well without him.
"Of course, I thought about it when I'm not playing and the team is winning," Malkin said. "I know I can help the team. I can help the power play. This feels so much better. I know I can help this team win."
Eric Fehr, Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary also scored as the Penguins tallied four times on 18 shots against Henrik Lundqvist, who was lifted early in the second period.
Pittsburgh converted 3 of 6 power plays, and is 7 of 19 in the series with the extra man.
The Rangers have lost five straight home playoffs games dating to last season, and these last two were horrible efforts.
"Today we are disappointed, angry, frustrated, for sure," forward Mats Zuccarello said. "At the same time, you can't let that go to your head. We have to win the next game and go from there."
New York came into Game 4 vowing to pick things up after being totally outplayed in a 3-1 loss Tuesday night.
They brought tenor John Amirante out of retirement to sing the national anthem and the crowd at Madison Square Garden was buzzing when the puck was dropped.
The excitement disappeared 69 seconds into the game when Lundqvist gave up a juicy rebound on a slap shot by Ben Lovejoy and Fehr charged down the middle of the ice to poke the rebound into the net. Malkin made the pass that set up Lovejoy's big shot.
The big Russian, who hurt an arm in early March and didn't return to the lineup until Saturday, helped push the lead to 2-0 at 7:11 with a shot from the point on a power play. Crosby deflected the shot on the way in and Hornqvist tipped it again standing in front of Lundqvist for his fourth goal of the postseason.
Sheary hushed the crowd and made them start to realize this might be the final home game of the season, when he blocked a point shot by defenseman Kevin Klein, skated down the left wing and beat Lundqvist badly on a shot from the circle for a 3-0 lead at 16:12. It was his first NHL playoff goal.
"I am just going to say I was not good enough," Lundqvist said. "It was just a really bad game. I need to be better, simple as that. I don't need to say any more than that."
By the final minute of the period time, the Penguins' near perfect play had the Rangers' fans booing the team that went to the Cup Finals two years ago and the Eastern Conference finals last season.
Malkin, who had a goal waved off late in the first period for an obvious goaltender interference call, stretched the lead to 4-0 with another power-play goal at 4:00 of the second period. It was scored with a rocket from the point after the Penguins refused to let the Rangers clear the puck out of the offensive zone.
"Geno wants to win," Sullivan said. "He's a competitive guy. He cares about this team. And he knows he's a big part of this team having success. He's a self-driven guy. He wants to be on the ice. He wants the puck in the crucial situations."
A little more than two minutes after the goal, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault lifted Lundqvist. Antti Raanta finished up.
Malkin added his second of the game and 44th of his postseason career on deflection in front in the third period with Pittsburgh on another power play.
The only thing remaining after that was to see if Murray got his shutout, and the Penguins made sure he did.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called his team's performance uncharacteristic.
"I don't think it was a lack of will, we just picked a very bad night to have a very bad game."
NOTES: The Rangers made one lineup change, inserting rookie Oscar Lindberg and sitting Kevin Hayes. Lindberg played on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass. Viktor Stalberg moved up to third line with Eric Staal and J.T. Miller. ... Crosby and Malkin played in their 104th playoff game, passing Kevin Stevens for third in franchise history. ...Stalberg lost three teeth in a high-sticking incident with Kris Letang on Tuesday and he was clipped in the mouth again on Thursday. ... The Rangers were 0-for-4 on the power play, and they are 1 of 16 in the series.