Rangers aim to eliminate Pens in Game 5
(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 Montreal Maroons.
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 Los Angeles.
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 season.
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.