NEW YORK — Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen, a veteran of 1,274 regular season NHL games and another 76 in the playoffs, knows how to take advantage of a big moment when he sees one.
Early in the third period of Game 3 against the New York Rangers, Cullen saw his chance. Rangers defensemen Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle collided at their own blue line, allowing the 39-year-old Cullen to pick up a loose puck, skate in all alone on goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and deposit it it in the net for a 2–1 lead. It was all the Penguins needed, though Kris Letang sealed the win with an empty-net goal, giving them the series lead, two games to one.
The Rangers had some hope early when Chris Kreider appeared to open the scoring at 12:56 of the first period, only to have the goal called back when teammate J.T. Miller was deemed to be just offsides on the play. Teammate Rick Nash potted a shorthanded goal behind Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray, who was making his first career playoff start, just 39 seconds into the second period, but it was all New York would muster.
Sidney Crosby tied the game with 42 second left in the second, deflecting Phil Kessel’s shot, and Pittsburgh carried the momentum into the third en route to the 3–1 final. The teams will reconvene for Game 4 in New York on Thursday night.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Penguins get back to their game
After 60 minutes, the shot totals read: Penguins 31, Rangers 17. The shot attempts weren’t much better for New York, which was on the wrong side of a 58-42 count.
The Penguins dominated the offensive zone throughout the second and third periods, with six skaters recording three or more shots on goal. Kessel led the team with six.
“I thought that down the stretch, we had ourselves a chance to be aggressive and not sit back,” Crosby said. “I think both teams played really quick. It felt like a very fast game, especially early on. It was high pace. I think if anything we just did a better job at getting pucks deep and moving our feet instead of trying to make plays in the neutral zone.”
It was this style of play that the Penguins used to great effect down the stretch, dominating their way to 15 wins in their final 21 games.
Murray helps solidify Pens’ net
With Marc-André Fleury still day-to-day, Murray stepped between the pipes, his first action since being injured in the Pens’ final game of the season.
Facing a rookie who admitted to feeling the butterflies before the game, New York had an opportunity to take advantage of the situation, but instead allowed Pittsburgh to control the play for extended periods.
When the final buzzer sounded, Nash’s tally was the only blemish on Murray’s night, as he finished with 16 saves, including key stops on Rangers forward Derek Stepan in the second and defenseman Keith Yandle in the third.
"I thought he was real solid,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's got a really calm demeanor in there. He was tracking the puck well."
While a healthy Fleury would be the preferred option, Murray withstood the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and proved to be more than capable in Fleury's stead.
The Blueshirts get their captain back
On Tuesday morning, Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who hadn’t played since taking a puck to the hand against Columbus on April 4, was able to returMcDonagto the lineup. His presence was more than welcome, after New York had to play Game 2 in Pittsburgh without blueliner Dan Girardi as well.
Paired mostly with rookie Brady Skjei, McDonagh saw 22:48 of ice time, highest among Rangers defenseman, finishing with five hits and a block. Despite having the team’s second-worst individual shot differential at -15 (Skjei was -16), McDonagh was a needed addition to the New York bench.
“It was great to see him back,” Henrik Lundqvist about his captain. “I wish we could have had a better result though. It’s always good to see guys come back and practice yesterday.”