NHL takeaways: Good news, Rangers fans — this won’t last much longer

To say New York hasn’t gotten the bang for its buck from its big-name stars would be an understatement. But the final boom will come soon, and the Penguins will be lowering it.

When your goalie is on the bench, it means your net is empty and you're trailing on the scoreboard. It's a tired image for Rangers fans, but one that is about to mercifully end.

Scott Levy / NHLI

To say New York hasn’t gotten the bang for its buck from its big-name stars would be an understatement. But the final boom will come soon, and the Penguins will be lowering it.

Lack of scoring, negative power-play production and a meager 15 shots on goal will be the storylines that dominate the New York papers after the Penguins' 4-2 victory over the Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden — a win that gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 series lead heading back to Consol Energy Center.

But hand in hand with those offensive outages goes the play of key Rangers Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. Nash led the team in goals this season with 26. Stepan was second on the team in points with 57. McDonagh was the points leader among Rangers defensemen with 43.

In 11 playoff games, Nash has zero goals, Stepan has four points and McDonagh has one assist to go along with a minus-5 rating (see play of day below). We suspected at the start of the series that offense would be the Rangers' undoing. We just didn't realize how dramatic that deficiency would look.

PLAY OF THE DAY

 

 

Brandon Sutter's shortie: The play was a microcosm of what ails the Rangers in this series. Postseason no-show Nash coughed up the puck in the neutral zone, then blew a tire and crashed into the boards near the penalty box. Penguins forward Brian Gibbons skated in on a breakaway, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped him. Unfortunately for Lundqvist, Pittsburgh forward Sutter beat playoff no-show No. 2, McDonagh, to the puck and banged home the rebound. Oh, did we mention that the Rangers were in the midst of tying an NHL record for playoff futility with their 36th straight scoreless power play?

THREE STARS:

1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh: He had a pair of assists, he won 67 percent of his faceoffs and he posted a plus-2 rating.

2. Evgeni Malkin, RW, Pittsburgh: Playing with Crosby, Malkin had a goal, an assist, three shots and six more missed shots.

3. Brandon Sutter, C, Pittsburgh: These playoffs have been Sutter's coming-out party. He had a shorthanded goal on four shots to bring his playoff totals to four goals and two assists in 10 games. Not bad for a third-line center.

RECAP

Pittsburgh 4, New York Rangers 2

Series: Pittsburgh leads, 3-1

Key stat: Carl Hagelin's second-period goal ended a stretch of 145:30 without a goal for New York.

Key player: Evgeni Malkin: Malkin played with Crosby on Wednesday, and let's face it — everyone, even Malkin, benefits from that arrangement.

What we learned: New York is in desperate need of game-changing skill up front. The Rangers traded Marian Gaborik last season because he wasn't producing. Now he is because he's playing with Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles. Derek Stepan had a good season for New York and his youth offers promise, but the Penguins' edge at the center position has been noticeable in this series. Let's face it: New York's season is over. Pittsburgh has clearly been the better team in every game. Only an early deficit for Pittsburgh and an overtime goal from Derick Brassard in Game 1 kept this from being a sweep. The question is: How good are these Penguins? For much of the season, Pittsburgh was overly reliant on two lines to carry it — the Penguins lost more games to injury than any other club. But guys like Sutter, Brian Gibbons and Beau Bennett are giving Pittsburgh much better depth, and the return of Kris Letang following a January stroke has given the Penguins two strong defensive pairings. Even goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seems to have righted the ship. But how much of this success is due to the competition? Columbus and New York don't exactly inspire fear the way most of those first-round Western Conference matchups did. The Metropolitan Division was clearly the league's worst this season. What will happen when Pittsburgh faces Boston again — or Montreal if the Canadiens can complete the upset? And can Pittsburgh really compete with the West's elite? Logic suggests that any team with Crosby and Malkin has a chance, but the true nature of the Penguins' depth will be tested soon.

Next game: Game 5: Friday at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m., ET

Final thought: The second round of the playoffs has been decidedly less interesting than the first round. Pittsburgh has a commanding lead on New York, Los Angeles has a commanding lead on Anaheim and Chicago can put a stranglehold on its surprisingly dull series with Minnesota with a win Friday in St. Paul. We have a feeling Boston won't go quietly against the Canadiens, but the first round ended with three Game 7s. We may have to wait another round to match that drama.

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