Rangers in big trouble after Game 4 loss to Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins winger Chris Kunitz celebrates a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik...

Pittsburgh Penguins winger Chris Kunitz celebrates a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden in New York, May 7, 2014. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 PM ET

NEW YORK - An emphatic stick smash said it all.

After the Pittsburgh Penguins scored their second goal Wednesday night, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist let his stick have it, clubbing the defenceless net as the Penguins celebrated nearby.

Lundqvist had to know his team was in trouble in the Eastern Conference semifinal, never mind that there was plenty of hockey left in Game 4.

The netminder was on to something.

The Rangers didn’t play the kind of desperate hockey they had spoken of earlier, but we’re not sure it would have mattered.

The Penguins put on a fine defensive display, limiting the Rangers to 15 shots on goal at Madison Square Garden, and skated off with a 4-2 victory.

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can finish the Rangers off at home Friday night and get some rest before a date in the conference final against the Montreal Canadiens or Boston Bruins.

New York finally scored a goal after going two full games — and then another period — without one. Moral victories in the playoffs, though, are for losers.

Lundqvist let loose after a shorthanded goal by Brandon Sutter, who has been in fine two-way form since the 2014 playoffs started.

Evgeni Malkin, Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins. Jokinen extended his playoff points streak to eight games.

Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello scored for the Rangers.

Zuccarello made it interesting on a backhand at 13:07 of the third period, after a Jokinen shot went in off defenceman Marc Staal.

But less than a minute after Zuccarello’s goal, Kunitz scored.

The clubs each scored a goal in the second period and the Rangers’ score ended a goal-less string of 145 minutes 30 seconds.

At 5:30, Hagelin got New York’s first tally since Derick Brassard’s goal in overtime of Game 1. It was a pretty one, as Hagelin found a wide seam between defencemen Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi after taking a pass from Ryan McDonagh. After working up some speed, Hagelin fired a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove and into the top corner.

Fleury came within minutes of setting a career high, in the playoffs or regular season, for shutout hockey. In March 2011 during the regular season, Fleury went 150 minutes 14 seconds without allowing a goal.

The Penguins regained a one-goal lead toward the end of the period, and it happened with Malkin sitting in the penalty box. The Rangers couldn’t complete passes in the neutral zone, and the speedy Brian Gibbons picked up the puck. He foiled his own breakaway when he fanned on a deke, but Sutter outlasted McDonagh and popped the puck over a prone Lundqvist at 18:27.

That resulted in Lundqvist losing his cool, a show of frustration that summed up the feelings of the Rangers fans in the building. They booed as the period ended.

Both teams welcomed integral veterans back to their respective lineups, but the reunion did not last long for the Penguins. Defenceman Brooks Orpik returned after missing five games with an undisclosed injury, but did not return for the start of the second period.

For the Rangers, Chris Kreider was in uniform after missing 19 games with a hand injury. Kreider didn’t have much of an influence, and could not get a brutal Rangers power play out of the doldrums.

The Rangers didn’t score on two man-advantages, running their futility streak to 36 power plays in a row without a goal.

Rick Nash’s goal-less streak has reached 14 games, and apparent lack of confidence was evident when he had a feeble attempt, and shot wide, on a three-on-one rush. On a subsequent odd-man rush, Nash shot the puck into Fleury’s chest. Nash was hearing boos well before the game ended.

The Penguins held a 1-0 lead after the first period.

The Rangers applied some pressure on the game’s opening shift, but could not sustain it. Any notion of regaining the momentum was killed at 2:31 when Malkin scored on broken play.

Crosby tried to make a cross-ice pass to Malkin, but the attempt hit the stick blade of Rangers defenceman Marc Staal. All that did was slow the puck down, and it still went to Malkin, who spun around with a backhand and fooled Lundqvist.

The play began when the Rangers couldn’t clear the zone, and defenceman Anton Stralman was in a giving mood.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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