The Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking to expand on their 2-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena.
After a wild Game 3 all eyes will be on Rangers net minder Igor Shesterkin who was pulled after the first period, as he allowed four Penguins goals on 15 shots. What will the Penguins need to do in order to grab a commanding 3-1 lead in this first round series?
1. Protect the Front of the Net
Louis Domingue has been a fantastic story for the Penguins. No one could've predicted that he would even dress for a playoff game this season, let alone start. While he has quickly became a fan favorite and a media darling, his play on the ice has been less than stellar.
Allowing nine goals in the past two games, Domingue carries a .904 save percentage this postseason while allowing 4.03 goals per game. Not all of the goals have been his fault, but Domingue has allowed his fair share of weak goals as well.
The one thing that Domingue has showed, however, is the ability to make the timely save. In Game 3, it was a diving left shoulder save on Artemi Panarin that led to the Penguins regaining the lead 5-4. Similar to the overtime periods in Game 1, the Penguins were able to keep the crease clear of blue jerseys and force the Rangers into taking shots from the outside which gave Domingue plenty of time and vision to make the saves to close out the game. Not to mention that the Penguins only allowed six shots in the most pivotal period of the series so far.
If the Penguins can keep the Rangers forwards out of Domingue's face the third-string goalie turned playoff starter will be able to improve on his below average numbers.
2. Avoid the Armageddon Period
The second period of Game 3 could be classified as the worst period of hockey this team has played in years. Not only did they give up the three-goal lead they built up, but they looked incapable of stopping the bleeding.
The Ranger gave the Penguins an opportunity after reducing the Penguins lead to one goal. Rangers rookie defenseman Braden Schneider hooked Evan Rodrigues to put the Penguins on the power play late in the period. Instead of using the man advantage to regain some momentum the Penguins top unit fumbled away the puck and allowed the Rangers to tie the game shorthanded.
It is difficult to play a perfect 60 minutes in any NHL game, let alone in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but you cannot take entire periods off and expect to win consistently. The Penguins have gotten away with this in both of their wins to this point in this series, but are playing with fire if they do it again in Game 4.
If the Penguins feel the momentum shifting away from them (and that will happen at some point) they need to simplify their game and make the small plays to climb their way back before the Rangers completely take over the period.
3. More Malkin
Say what you will about the play of Evgeni Malkin, but to this point in the series, he has been a difference maker.
Whether it be turning the puck over at the blue line on the power play leading to a Rangers short handed goal or being the driving factor in both game winning goals for the Penguins, he has made his mark on this matchup. If anyone is questioning Malkin's will or his effort, look no further than Danton Heinen's game-winner in Game 3.
That play is solely made because of Malkin's effort on the forecheck against Rangers defenseman Justin Braun. He pressured Braun and took the attention of another Ranger while Heinen picked up the loose puck and deposited it into the back of the net.
In many ways Malkin is the key to everything for this Pittsburgh Penguins team. As we saw throughout the regular season, the success of the power play runs through him, and if his line is able to produce at even strength very few teams will have the depth and ability to matchup with the Penguins.
Both of Malkin's line mates, Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen, are starting to find their rhythm. That line outshot their opponents 10-6 in Game 3 and accounted for the biggest goal of this series at the moment. If they Penguins want to win, they need Malkin to be at his best in Game 4.
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