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Rangers lose to Penguins, trail series 3-1
The Rangers are in dire straits, sinking like a stone in the waters of the NHL playoffs and close to drowning.
"We're in a big hole here," said Henrik Lundqvist after the Rangers, sloppy and sluggish in what was essentially a must-have Game 4 last night at Madison Square Garden, lost, 4-2. to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers, down 3-1 in the series, held a closed-door meeting and are facing elimination in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Simply put, the Blueshirts couldn't handle Evgeni Malkin, with a goal and assist, and Sidney Crosby, with two assists, who often were paired.
The Rangers' top scorers, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan, came up empty.
Nash, the high-price forward who has one goal in 23 playoff games with the Rangers, was loudly booed by the Garden crowd. "It's tough," he said, "but I understand where they're coming from."
Asked if this was the most frustrated he has been in his career, he said. "Yeah, by a lot."
St. Louis, who hasn't scored in this series, said he was disappointed in himself. "We got in our own way and didn't execute and it mounted," St. Louis said.
Although the Rangers snapped one streak -- Carl Hagelin's glove side wrister broke goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout string at 145:30 -- to tie the score at 1 in the second period, the Penguins, by far the better club, would not be denied.
Not only haven't the Rangers scored on 36 consecutive power plays, they surrendered an ugly shorthanded goal with just 1:33 left in the second.
A turnover in the neutral zone led to Brian Gibbons' break-in, which was stopped by Lundqvist, but Brandon Sutter raced to the puck lying in the crease and flipped it past the goaltender, who was helpless on his stomach, for a 2-1 lead.
"We didn't pick a good night to manage the puck the way we did," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Lundqvist took out his frustration on the crossbar with an angry two-handed chop with his stick as the Penguins celebrated. In the third period, the visitors celebrated again. After James Neal stole the puck from Marc Staal at the blue line, Jussi Jokinen came behind the net, spun and his shot banked off Staal's skate past Lundqvist at 7:02.
Mats Zuccarello's sharp-angled shot eluded Fleury with 6:53 left in regulation to cut the lead to 3-2. But Chris Kunitz scored 57 seconds later.
Things did not start well for the Rangers. Malkin scored his fifth of the season on a spinaround backhander that slid inside the left post at 2:31 to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Crosby's pass bounced off Staal, and Lundqvist seemed surprised by the low shot, which was the first by the Penguins.
The Rangers had trouble clearing their zone and the Penguins buzzed. Lundqvist had to cover another spinaround, this one by Gibbons. The Rangers killed two penalties, but the giveaways were rampant, with 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
"Unacceptable," Ryan McDonagh said.
After saying they needed traffic in front of Fleury, they created very little, except for a short stretch of about 1:40 in the first, when Derick Brassard's line buzzed, and then Nash and Chris Kreider, returning after a 19-game absence with a broken left hand, applied pressure. But still, no goals.
The Rangers had a day off Tuesday, plenty of motivation and an added weapon in Kreider, who scored 17 goals during the season.
But their ineffectiveness continued. The Rangers had just 15 shots overall and have five goals in four games. Game 6, if necessary, would be back here on Sunday. With numbers like these, that's a long shot.