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 below the Rangers’ goal line as much as possible, with Sidney Crosby having a particularly memorable change in that regard.
The Penguins clogged the neutral zone as the Rangers got the puck and approached. At least one striker stayed high.
It looked like a trap. I’m not sure because it’s confusing to see the uniforms do.
The Penguins managed to score and situation. They contented themselves with winning. They got away from their usual ego-driven, stubborn “this is how we play” mentality.
Hallelujah. Rinse and repeat.
It was a welcome change from what happened in the first half of the second period, as the Penguins saw the 4-1 lead they had at the first break quickly disappear. The Rangers ended up pulling themselves with 4:01 left in the second period.
In the first half of the second period, the Penguins did not take a more defensive stance or take a shot at the New York net. One would think it would be one or the other, or preferably a combination, but not any of the parts. It was the Penguins’ worst game of the season.
Making the lack of shots more confusing is that the Rangers had just deployed their second-string goalkeeper, Alexander Georgiev. For Georgiev, the wait was the hardest part.
Well, that and Heinen’s battle-winning goal. Georgiev should have stopped it.
This series has not exactly been a goalkeeping festival. Coach Mike Sullivan and the Penguins players praise Louis Dominque’s performance because they have to.
But Domingue has allowed nine goals in his two starts. He has stopped 67 shots out of 76 in those fights, a meager save percentage of 0.882.
But Domingue is a good story, a good quote and, most importantly, the last man standing.
Here are the bets, Monday’s match 4 will decide the league winner.
If the Penguins win, they will bleed the series out.
If the Rangers win, and if the supposed Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin does not again drip brown all over the blue paint, they will win the series.
But wow, Shesterkin was rotten last Saturday. Four goals allowed on 15 shots before he was moved. Two goals were bad, another was not great.
A few suggestions for the penguins:
• Do not put Kris Letang and Mike Matheson together. Each of them tries too hard. Each gets in the way of the other. The penguins are better when one or the other is on the ice. Not together. Letang and Matheson were split for much of Saturday’s third period, and the positive trickledown was evident. (Brian Dumoulin’s return from injury solves that.)
• Use the second powerplay more. That unit struck twice last Saturday. They keep it simple. The first unit was awful, coughing up a short-handed target. Use what works. Forget past fidelity. When the second powerplay cools down, resume the usual duty distribution.
• Evgeni Malkin is too quiet. The bottom six exploded Saturday. Crosby’s line had an excellent third period. Malkin must do his part.
• Scratch Brian Boyle. Dress Drew O’Connor. Boyle is too slow to play against Rangers. He gets caught off the ice on odd-man breaks, including on one of Rangers’ goals on Saturday.
• Domingue needs to play better. You can not train it, or force it, or lure it. But it has to happen. Shesterkin will improve. Domingue should too. Winning 7-4 is rare. (But Domingue is already a Pittsburgh icon. Backup something is a big man in this city.)
• More than anything else, the Penguins have to cope with the scoring and the situation they did down on Saturday. That was what won the match.
How this series unfolds is anyone’s guess. It’s crazy.
Evan Rodrigues not only scored twice on Saturday, he almost put the puck in his own net from 200 feet with Domingue drawn during a delayed penalty kick.
Crosby had an insane mid-leg assist on Jeff Carter’s empty net goal.
Kris Letang had one of the most spectacular, long-lasting revolutions in franchise history. That led to the Rangers’ shorty.
Jason Zucker played, delivered a game-high seven hits, generally performed well and was not injured.
When it goes weird, it becomes the weird pro.