NHL

Rangers pushed to the brink of elimination

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The Canadian Press
4/30/2008 1:09:42 AM
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NEW YORK - Evgeni Malkin looked every bit like an MVP at MSG and pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink of the Eastern Conference finals.

Only hours after Malkin was announced as a Hart Trophy finalist, the second-year forward showed why.

He scored two power-play goals and added an assist in the Penguins' 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night that gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead in the series.

"I'm definitely proud of him," said captain Sidney Crosby, last year's Hart winner. "As a teammate, you always want to see other guys do well. He did that all season. It was a great accomplishment."

The Penguins are 7-0 in the playoffs and can advance into hockey's final four as early as Thursday night with another win at Madison Square Garden where they lost all four times they visited in the regular season.

The Penguins are still rolling after a four-game sweep of Ottawa in the first round.

"We are in a great position," said forward Marian Hossa, who scored the first goal of the game. "Nobody would think that we would be in this position after three games, but right now we are greedy. We want to win another one."

Just when it seemed the Rangers were going to blow right past the Penguins, a careless boarding penalty by Ryan Hollweg put Pittsburgh back on the power play. And despite being outshot 29-13, the Penguins regained the lead when Malkin scored another power-play goal.

New York pressed for the go-ahead score after its two quick ones forged a 3-3 tie. The Penguins were tired in their own zone when Hollweg, a healthy scratch for the first two games of the series, drilled Petr Sykora from behind into the boards.

"It was not too smart on his part," Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney said. "Because of that, we were able to go into the third period with a lead."

With quick, crisp passes that slid all over the Rangers end during the advantage, the Penguins moved the New York defenders around in exhausting fashion. Crosby's pass nicked Ryan Callahan before getting to Malkin in the right circle.

Malkin took his time and sent a shot into the net off the left post to make it 4-3 with 2:07 left in the second. Last season's rookie of the year has five goals in the playoffs, three in this series.

It took all of the exhilaration out of the crowd that went from listless, after a discouraging first period, to jubilant when Jaromir Jagr's sweeping move from behind the net finished with a deft shot into the top left corner of the net.

"Nobody feels worse than Ryan Hollweg," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.

The Penguins eked out wins at home in the opening two games against the Rangers, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 1 and prevailing 2-0 on Sunday on the strength of Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout.

Pittsburgh is looking to advance to the East finals for the first time since 2001. Only two NHL teams have come back to win a series after trailing 3-0. The 1975 New York Islanders did it to the Penguins in the second round.

The Boston Red Sox are the only other team in any other sport to pull off the feat, toppling the New York Yankees in 2004.

"It's pretty tough to be down 3-0, but they have to win four games," said Jagr, who took 10 shots. "Even such a great team like the Yankees didn't hold a 3-0 lead. They are the best ever. We can make history."

New York, which dominated the shot clock with a 39-17 edge, had the stirring rally in this one, erasing a two-goal deficit in the second period. But Malkin restored the Penguins' lead before the frame was finished, then won a key faceoff in the Rangers end that helped set up Ryan Malone's goal that made it 5-3 at 2:30 of the third.

Hossa, Georges Laraque and Malkin scored for Pittsburgh around a goal by New York's Martin Straka in the first period.

Ryan Callahan and Jagr scored 1:04 apart in the second to tie it.

"With the desperation they had, we tried to do our best to match," Crosby said. "In the first period, we did a pretty good job, in the second we didn't play well at all, and in the third we picked it up again. You can't afford to have bad periods but you have to find ways to ways to win sometimes."

Laraque, who scored four goals in the regular season, snapped off a shot from in front after a pass by Malkin from behind the net at 16:17. Just 52 seconds after the five-foot-11 Callahan took a four-minute high-sticking penalty for clipping 6-7 defenceman Hal Gill, Malkin netted his first of the night.

Except for the closing seconds of Game 2 when Adam Hall sealed Pittsburgh's win with an empty-netter, this marked the first time the Rangers trailed by more than one goal this post-season.

As has been the case in all three games, the power play has made the difference on both sides. Pittsburgh has scored at least one man-advantage goal in each of its seven post-season games, including four in this series.

The Rangers were 0-for-5 on the power play in this one and are 1-for-14. New York was given three straight advantages within a 2:08 span early in the second period, but couldn't convert. The overlap gave them two 5-on-3 power plays that totalled 75 futile seconds.

Hossa staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead 1:02 into the game with his third of the playoffs. The Rangers tied it with 5:28 left in the first on Straka's goal that came when Jagr crashed the net.

Notes: Rangers C Chris Drury was hampered after appearing to injure a shoulder in the second period. New York lost C Blair Betts in that frame after he was struck in the face while blocking a shot. . The Penguins are 9-2 in Game 3 of series they've led 2-0, 8-0 on the road.

Penguins celebrate (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
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