For the Penguins, the third time was the charm.
For the first time in three years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have made it past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, exorcising its playoff demons along the way. The Penguins booted the New York Rangers out of the playoffs with a decisive 6-3 victory Saturday afternoon — winning the best-of-seven series in just five games.
The Rangers had taken the last two-playoff series between the Metropolitan Division rivals, but the Penguins high-soaring offense proved to be too much for the Blueshirts, as Pittsburgh won the series 4-1.
The Rangers, led by franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist, came into this post season with high hopes of finally winning a cup under the group’s current regime. The Penguins, though, had different plans.
The Pens cruised into the Game 5 matchup in Pittsburgh after taking both away games at Madison Square Garden by a combined score of 8-1. Lundqvist — who has been the backbone of the Rangers for the better part of the decade — let in 10 goals in his past 66 minutes played. That is well over a hat trick of goals per period, which is rare for King Henrik, who throughout his career boasts a solid .923 save percentage. It was evident all series that the youth and the speed of the Penguins was too much to handle for the Rangers.
Pens Captain Sidney Crosby led the Penguins with eight points in five games played, but while the Penguins stars were great, their depth was key in powering them through to the second round. In game five, former American Hockey League wingers Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary combined to score three goals. Rust also assisted on a goal scored by the 39-year-old “ageless wonder,” Matt Cullen. Cullen’s veteran presence has Penguins fans seeing shades of Billy Guerin, who played a similar role for the Penguins in the team’s Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Closing out a series in five games was no easy task for Pittsburgh, who began the playoffs with an air of uncertainty surrounding the team. The Pens were missing its all-star goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, who sustained a concussion for the second time this season. Rookie net-minder Matt Murray, who burst onto the scene in Fleury’s absence, won nine games for the team. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Matt Murray also sustained a concussion in the last game of the season on a play in front of the net from Flyers forward, Brayden Schenn. The Penguins went on to start the series against the Rangers with third-string goaltender, Jeff Zatkoff.
Perhaps the biggest mystery was whether or not the Penguins would have Evgeni Malkin, who is a two-time Art Ross trophy winner and one of the most dominant centers in the game. Malkin missed the last 15 games of the regular season with an injury. He joined the Penguins for the second game of the series, and immediately made his presence felt.
Malkin torched the Rangers at home in game four with two goals and two assists. Through just four games, he has seven points and appears to have his groove back as the Penguins, look like true Stanley Cup contenders. The Pens can now look ahead to the second round, where they will take on the Washington Capitals.