The Pittsburgh Penguins prevailed over the New York Rangers in Game 3 despite another lackluster performance from their top power play unit. While the Penguins are back out in front of this series 2-1, their inability to take cash in on the man advantage is their biggest fault to this point in the playoffs and could come back to haunt them if they continue to struggle.
Overall, the Penguins are three for nine (33%) on the man advantage in three games against the Rangers, including a two for three night last night in Game 3. However, it was the Penguins second unit that cashed in with Jeff Carter deflecting in an Evan Rodrigues shot, and Rodrigues later scoring one of his own.
Meanwhile, the top unit failed to get a shot on goal in over three minutes of ice time on the power play.
It's not just their failure to score that has been the issue as they have allowed more goals (2) than they have scored (1) during this series. In Game 3, after a Sidney Crosby shot from the point was blocked out of the zone, Kris Letang turned the puck over at the Penguins blue line. Rangers penalty killer Kevin Rooney took the puck and skated in for an opportunity.
Letang took down Rooney with a form tackle that would make Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin blush (Tomlin was in attendance), before barreling into the Penguins net. Andrew Copp was there to bunt in the rebound as the other four Penguins were beat out to their net-front despite having plenty of time to retreat and help out their goaltender.
That medley of mistakes led to a tie game, capping off a three-goal comeback in the second period for the Rangers. The seemingly disinterested body language of both Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin at the point of the power play has led to multiple shorthanded chances for the Rangers through the first three games of these playoffs.
Not many teams can survive and advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when their special teams perform like that.
Going into Game 3, the special teams had been the most decisive advantage in this evenly matched series. The Rangers power play was converting at 40% (2 for 5), while the Penguins were at 16% (1 for 6), with their only goal coming on a 5-on-3 in Game 1. Fortunately, for the Penguins, the penalty kill unit was able to bounce back in Game 3, killing three penalties in a row with the game tied 4-4, the last of which swung the momentum in the Penguins favor leading to the eventual game-winning goal.
That's the power of special teams in the playoffs, and if the shoe is on the other foot in this postseason, it could be the Penguins big guns that come up short leading to a massive momentum shift to their opposition.
The Penguins power play hasn't been good most of the season, finishing with a 20.2% conversion rate (18th in the NHL). With a unit featuring two, potentially three, Hall of Fame talents the Penguins need to figure out a way to revive their top unit. The team's fate in this year's postseason may depend on it.
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