Mister Softee: Penguins Embarrass “Soft” Rangers

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

In what has to go down as one of the worst playoff losses in franchise history, the Penguins thoroughly embarrassed the Rangers, 7-2 last night at PPG Paints Arena to take game four and a three games to one lead in the best of seven first round.

The score was indicative of how the Rangers played. The Rangers were outshot (41-24) out hit (54-49) bad on faceoffs (29-19). You name it, the Rangers didn’t do it.

Their defense, that was stout in the final weeks of the regular season, has melted down and the Penguins have taken full advantage.

This is how bad it’s gotten for the Rangers. Igor Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy favorite, is being outplayed by a third string goaltender in Louis Domingue.Tthe Rangers’ top players are being thoroughly outplayed by Sidney Crosby and company and the coach is publicly calling out his team for being soft and noncommittal.

Played soft, we were soft all over the ice,” a frustrated head coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. “That’s the biggest difference, we were soft all over the ice.”

Mika Zibanejad had an assist but he hasn’t scored a goal in the series. Artemi Panarin also had an assist but did not have a shot on goal and he has only nine shots on goal in the four games.

The Rangers have no answers for Crosby and his top line of Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Crosby had a goal and two assists and has nine points in the four games. Guentzel has scored in every game and has six points in the series while Rust has five points.

Penguins took this game over in a 24 second span of the second period. After one, the teams were tied at one. Alexis LaFreniere scored his first playoff goal at 2:06 of the first period, but the Penguins tied it on Crosby’s controversial power play goal at 11:17.

Crosby was open at the crease and jammed at the puck. After a review, it was ruled a good goal and the teams skated off after one period, 1-1.

in the second, Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson fired a shot from just inside the blue line and beat Shesterkin for a 2-1 lead at 3:14. 24 seconds later, Rust found Guentzel streaking down the left side towards the net. Guentzel had gotten behind the Ranger defense and poked a pass from Rust, past Shesterkin for a stunning two goal lead.

Pittsburgh was unrelenting as they scored three more goals to make it 6-2 after two. Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman made it a 4-1 lead with his 1st of the series before Adam Fox gave the Rangers a little life with his second of the series to make it a 4-2 deficit.

Pittsburgh continued to apply pressure and it paid off with two more goals from Danton Heinen, who scored the go ahead goal in game three and Jeff Carter, who scored his third of the series. Evgeni Malkin capped off the scoring in the third period with his second goal of the series.

Shesterkin has not played well. The 26 year old has given up 13 goals in the series and 10 in the last three games. Could he be fatigued from making 118 saves in the first two games? “We weren’t playing very good in front of him, wasn’t on him at all,” Andrew Copp said.

Not that the team in front of him has given him any support. The Rangers were so bad in their own zone that MSG TV analyst Joe Michelletti described it as being “horrendous.”

What was more alarming was a lack of effort. “There wasn’t much commitment to playing defense tonight,” said Gallant.

The Penguins have gotten to the net without much trouble and that’s led to the deflections and bounces that have gone their way.

Jacob Trouba said all the right things after the game. “Not a good game. Takes four to win a series, we gotta move on from it,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0 or lost like we just did tonight, game’s over, move on to the next game.”

Easier said than done because it’s going to take a lot to turn this series around.

The first thing is for the Rangers to simply get back to playing the kind of stifling defense that earmarked their regular season.

It would help if the Rangers took a cue from their opponent and got more pucks to the net. Sometimes the Rangers “shoot themselves in the foot” instead of shooting the puck.

Copp said they need to clean up their abundance of mistakes. “When we do break pucks out clean, maybe looking too fancy in the neutral zone, turning it over and we’re not coming back for our “d” enough.”

Gallant was more blunt about the situation. “I’m worried about my team and I don’t like what I saw tonight,” he said.

The coach also answered any question as to who will be in net in game five.

He’ll [Shesterkin] be back in there and he’ll [be] ready to win a game on Wednesday night.”

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