Penguins’ struggles against New York teams becoming a trend
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The Penguins have a serious problem with New York.
Two days after losing a third consecutive time against the Islanders, the Penguins proved even more ineffective against a Rangers team that has dominated them in recent meetings, falling 5-2.
For the Penguins to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they almost certainly will have to beat one of those teams, if not both.
The Rangers, in particular, present a problem. They are 6-1 in their past seven meetings with the Penguins, whose only victory in that span came after video review overturned a Rangers shootout goal. The Penguins scored on the ensuing attempt to win earlier this season.
“They make us play a smart game,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “They have so many great players. We respect their skill and play smart because of it.”
Lundqvist was characteristically strong against the Penguins, stopping 32 of 34 shots. He perhaps was the Rangers’ best player when they came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to beat the Penguins in Game 7 last season.
Since Game 5 of that series, the Rangers have not only been nearly unbeatable in head-to-head meetings, but they also have earned a number of one-sided victories. In those seven games, the Rangers have outscored the Penguins, 26-11.
Dating to the 2013 regular season, the Rangers have five wins by three or more goals over the Penguins.
“There’s no explanation for that,” said center Sidney Crosby, who scored his 15th goal of the season Sunday. “They’re a team we should be pretty motivated to play against. Unfortunately, we haven’t done a good enough job against them.”
New York’s depth is among its biggest assets. The Rangers typically roll four lines and had to Sunday after having played Thursday and Friday.
The Penguins gave more minutes than usual to their third and fourth liners, who haven’t scored consistently. The Penguins’ fourth-liners Sunday — Zach Sill, Marcel Goc and Craig Adams — have combined for three goals this season.
Meanwhile, the Rangers boast players like J.T. Miller (five goals), Carl Hagelin (eight), Lee Stempniak (six) and Kevin Hayes (five) among their bottom six forwards.
“We’ve played a number of games in a short amount of time,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Having four lines that you can roll is a big advantage. I’m real pleased with how it all turned out.”
Despite the recent struggles against the Rangers, Penguins players said they aren’t letting it affect them.
“I’m not freaking out,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “We still have 37 games to go. I think we have some time to figure it out.”
The Rangers, it seems, already have the Penguins figured out with their depth and conservative, lockdown defensive style.
“They have the two best players in the league,” said Rangers left wing Rick Nash, who scored twice Sunday to give him a league-leading 28 goals. “We respect them and know how skilled they are. But the thing is, we don’t think about them too much. We worry about ourselves and play the right way.”