They did not make it easy on themselves, and it is almost certainly not the way they planned it, but the Pittsburgh Penguins were 7-4 winners over the New York Rangers in Game 3 on Saturday night to take a 2-1 series lead.
The Penguins got depth scoring, including two goals efforts from Evan Rodrigues and Jeff Carter, scored four goals on Igor Shesterkin in the first period to chase him from the game, completely fell apart in the second period to allow a three-goal lead to disappear, and then dominated the third period thanks to some excellent penalty killing and went ahead on a Danton Heinen goal with less than 10 minutes to play.
This series has been a back-and-forth heavyweight fight of extended periods of dominance, with each team carrying the play at different times. Saturday’s game turned out to be no different.
In other words, a lot happened.
Let’s take a look at a few key points.
The Penguins needed depth scoring, and they got it
This has been a storyline for the Penguins all season. At times their secondary scoring has been great. At other times it has been non-existent. The first two games of this series were more of the latter as pretty much all of their offense came from the Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel line. They needed more from the other three lines. On Saturday, they got that. Crosby and Guentzel (who were both great, for what it is worth) did not factor into the scoring until a couple of empty net goals late, while Rodrigues, Carter, Heinen, and Brock McGinn combined for their first five goals of the game. You can not win consistently in the playoffs as a one-line team, so this had to be a welcome sign for the Penguins.
Special teams has also been a big factor in this series with the Rangers mostly dominating it over the first two games. The Penguins had some good and bad here on Saturday.
Even though the Penguins power play scored two goals, both of them came from their second unit with the first unit badly struggling and giving up its second shorthanded goal of the series. But one of the big turning points was the Penguins’ penalty kill coming through big late in the second period and third period by killing off three consecutive Rangers power plays with the game tied.
Should the Rangers have pulled Igor Shesterkin?
The Penguins scored four goals in the first period resulting in Rangers coach Gerard Gallant to make the decision to pull Shesterkin in favor of backup Alexandar Georgiev. It was a risky call.
Yes, you want to change things to spark your team. Yes, the Rangers did rally in the second period after the change to tie the game.
But it was also very early in the game, you were playing a team that had a third-string goalie at the other end of the ice, your backup has not had a particularly good season, and Shesterkin is still the best goalie in the world right now. He is going to win the Vezina and will probably be a finalist for the MVP. Do you really want to take your best player out of the game over a bad period when the game is still winnable? Georgiev was mostly okay, but Heinen’s game-winning goal is one that you need your goalie to stop every single time.
You also need him. This is not some random game in the middle of November that does not really matter much. This is the playoffs and a game that was still very winnable. You have to let your MVP, Vezina goalie get a chance to rebound.
Some weird goals
This game also had two pretty weird goals with the puck going in after the net was dislodged.
The game opened with McGinn scoring a goal early in the first period that was initially called no-goal on the ice. As McGinn throws the puck at the net from a bad angle, Rangers defenseman Patrick Nemeth (with no Penguins player anywhere near him) dislodges the net as the puck is falling toward the goal line.
As long as it is a defending player knocking the net off, and as long as the referee determines the puck would have crossed the goal line between the posts in their normal position, they can award a goal. That was their conclusion.
This same situation played out in the second period but on the other side of the ice.
The Rangers’ game-tying goal was a shorthanded goal off of a brutal Kris Letang turnover. As the Rangers were in a prime shooting position for a scoring chance, Letang slid into the net and literally pulled the post off of its moorings as Andrew Copp was shooting the puck.
Weird plays for a weird game.