Penguins' Sidney Crosby scored twice in the win over the New York Rangers to even the first-round series at 1-1.(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
He scored two goals, killed a few penalties out of sheer necessity, got flattened by Carl Hagelin. Then Sidney Crosby walked out the tunnel and heard some ugly taunts from Garden fans who understand that he is the one way the Rangers can still lose this first-round series to the Penguins. Crosby is the finisher that the Rangers lacked on Saturday, when they frittered away their first five power plays and lost Game 2, 4-3, to a team that really isn’t nearly as good.
“We had so many penalties, and it’s hard to argue with the (calls),” Crosby was saying, after the Pens tied the series, 1-1. “We hit ’em in the face with our sticks. We broke sticks. We’ve got to be better. Hopefully, through trial and error we learn it’s not worth the energy.”
It required considerable energy, and foolishness, but the Penguins grabbed real momentum from their penalty kills. The Rangers aren’t perfect, we know. They have this gnawing problem with Game 2s, a history of making these playoff series closer and longer than they need be. They toss away power plays in some games as if they were disposable diapers, as if their forwards want nothing to do with finishing. They waste opportunities to put away opponents early, decisively.
The Rangers haven’t beaten a lower seed in a Game 2 since 1994. On Saturday the Rangers did not lack chances. They just lacked a player such as Crosby. The Penguins scored on their first man advantage, then again on the second. Crosby scored twice in even-man situations to make this whole first-round series a bit more interesting, to get the boo birds going from all sections.
The Rangers somehow managed to awaken Crosby, who had scored exactly one goal in his last 19 playoff games, an uncanny slump for such a skilled player. He said afterward that these two goals did not take the pressure off him, that he needed to keep scoring.
“But it’s good to get rewarded,” he said. “Sometimes in the playoffs you play well and you don’t always get the result that you want.”
He got it this time, two acrobatic scores that came from buzzing around the crease, pouncing on the puck. When Crosby is fit and motivated, he can still be the same star who beat the U.S. for a gold medal back in 2010.
“He’s a great player,” Alain Vigneault said. “The best players in the NHL are going to get some looks. He got some looks tonight.”
Vigneault understood all this going in, that the Penguins would have the best two players on the ice in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; and that the Rangers would counter with depth, discipline and goaltending. Power plays accentuate that difference, tilt things in Pittsburgh’s favor.
This is all still very likely to end happily for the Rangers, but now three of the last five games are in Pittsburgh so the task grows more difficult.
“The most important one is the next one,” Crosby declared. “We have to be intense, but smarter.”
Crosby took a hit in the third period from Hagelin that shook his jaw and knocked him to the ice. The Garden crowd responded by jeering him, which didn’t seem to faze him one bit.
“I didn’t know what hit me, shoulder, stick . . . ,” Crosby said. “I didn’t even know it was (Hagelin).”
Crosby said he was feeling fine, which could be bad news for the Rangers. It may well prolong yet another first-round playoff, creating long-term mental and physical fatigue for the later rounds. First, though, the Rangers have to advance to those later rounds. To do that, they will need to handle Crosby better in front of Henrik Lundqvist and they will need to take greater advantage of those power plays.
“Obviously 1-for-7 isn’t good enough,” Vigneault said. “They ended up making us pay.”