After Danton Heinen scored to give the Penguins a 5-4 lead with 8:58 left in the third period against the New York Rangers in Game 3 of their playoff series on Saturday, something strange happened. :
Playoff hockey broke out.
The Penguins played as much as possible under the Rangers goal line, with Sidney Crosby having a particularly memorable change in that regard.
The Penguins plugged the neutral zone when the Rangers picked up the puck and came close. At least one attacker stayed high.
It looked like a trap. I’m not sure, because it’s confusing to see these uniforms do that.
The Penguins handled the score and the situation. They just won. They’ve moved away from their usual ego-driven, stubborn, “this is how we play” mentality.
Alleluia. Rinse and repeat.
It was a welcome change from what happened in the first half of the second period, when the Penguins saw the 4-1 lead they held in the first intermission quickly evaporate. Rangers ended up shooting even with 4:01 left in the second period.
In this first half of the second period, the Penguins did not adopt a more defensive posture or shoot towards the New York net. One would think it would be one or the other, or preferably a combination, but not neither. It was the Penguins’ worst streak all season.
What makes the paucity of shots more bewildering is that Rangers had just inserted their second goalkeeper, Alexander Georgiev. For Georgiev, the wait was the hardest part.
Well, that and Heinen’s winning goal. Georgiev should have stopped him.
This series hasn’t really been a goalie festival. Coach Mike Sullivan and the Penguins players are praising Louis Dominique’s performance because they have to.
But Domingue allowed nine goals in his two starts. He stopped 67 of 76 shots in those games, a meager .882 save percentage.
But Domingue is a good story, a good quote, and most importantly, the last man standing.
Here are the bets on Monday’s Game 4 that will determine the series winner.
If the Penguins win, they bleed the series.
If the Rangers win and presumptive Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin doesn’t drip brown all over the blue paint yet again, they win the series.
But, wow, was Shesterkin rotten on Saturday. Four goals allowed on 15 shots before getting shot. Two goals were bad, one not great.
Some suggestions for Penguins:
• Don’t pair Kris Letang and Mike Matheson. Everyone tries too hard. Each gets in the other’s way. The Penguins are better when either one is on the ice. Not together. Letang and Matheson were apart for much of Saturday’s third period and the positive fallout was evident. (Brian Dumoulin’s return from injury solves that problem.)
• Make more use of the second power play. This unit scored two goals on Saturday. They keep it simple. The first unit was horrible, spitting a shorthanded goal. Use what works. Forget previous allegiance. When the second power set cools down, resume the usual division of labor.
• Evgeni Malkin is too calm. The bottom six exploded on Saturday. Crosby’s line had a great third period. Malkin must do his part.
• Scratch Brian Boyle. Drew O’Connor dress. Boyle is too slow to play against Rangers. He is caught by the ice during odd breaks, notably on one of the Rangers’ goals on Saturday.
• Domingue must play better. You can’t coach that, or force that, or coax that. But it has to happen. Shesterkin will improve. Domingue must, too. Winning 7-4 is rare. (But Domingo is already a Pittsburgh icon. Backing everything up is a big man in this city.)
• More than anything, the Penguins need to manage the score and the situation like they did on Saturday. That’s what won the game.
No one can guess how this series pans out. It’s crazy.
Evan Rodrigues not only scored twice on Saturday, he nearly put the puck in his own net from 200 feet with Domingue pulled out on a delayed penalty.
Crosby got an insane assist between the legs on goal into an empty net from Jeff Carter.
Kris Letang had one of the most spectacular and longest turnovers in franchise history. This led to the Rangers shorty.
Jason Zucker played, delivered a game-high seven hits, generally performed well, and was injury-free.
When things get weird, weirdos go pro.
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