I’m writing this on Sunday, Mother’s Day, so it’s going to be a quick one before my wife clubs me over the head and drags me away like it’s Caveman Ugh-lympics.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 7-4 win over the New York Rangers in Game 3 on Saturday will probably go down as the most important of the series, even if it only made the series 2-1 in Pittsburgh’s favor. The Penguins tallied four goals past Rangers starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin, all four of them coming in the first period, two of them being on the power play, and all of them coming from guys not named Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, or Bryan Rust. It was the second time in the series that Shesterkin allowed four goals, and thus the second time the Rangers lost the game. Yes, Shesterkin did walk out of PPG Paints Arena without the decision (Alexandar Georgiev would be saddled with the loss), but Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant probably pulled his star goalie one goal too late as the damage had largely been done already.
Pulling Shesterkin prior to the second seemed to wake the rest of his teammates up, and they eviscerated Pittsburgh’s 4-1 lead and left the Penguins scrambling. I would posit that it was a message to the entire team to wake up and get focused for the rest of this series, because they are relying on Shesterkin (and/or Georgiev) to keep the score reasonable, and defensively they are currently letting the Penguins score with general impunity while being unable to similarly chase Pittsburgh’s third-string goaltender, Louis Domingue.
I’m not sure any of this is what Gallant had in mind coming into this series, but now he has to get his team playing stronger defensively, and to this point that has not been a strong suit of theirs. The only reason the Penguins didn’t completely blow the Rangers out of the building is because Pittsburgh took their foot off the gas and lost their focus in the second period. (It should be noted that Pittsburgh’s two wins in this series, less the empty net goals, are of the one-goal variety. During the regular season, New York was ninth in the League in one-goal games, while Pittsburgh was twenty-second.)
The longer this series goes on, the worse it’s likely to get for New York, and right now they have no choice but to see out a win in six or seven games. More time in this series means more opportunity for guys like Tristan Jarry, Brian Dumoulin, and Rickard Rakell to come back and make Pittsburgh presumably stronger. The Rangers don’t have this luxury; they are mostly at full strength already (minus Barclay Goodrow, who is out for the series, and Ryan Lindgren), so the only limit to their success right now is themselves. A win for the Penguins tonight will really tighten the screws for New York, making it a 3-1 series and making Game 5 a win or die for a Rangers team that wasn’t supposed to struggle this much against a heavily-depleted Pittsburgh team.