Third Time Against Rangers Off to Charming Start for Pens

The culture change Sullivan has orchestrated with the Penguins has been confirmed.

Culture shock.

That’s what the Rangers have to be experiencing three games into their first-round playoff series with the Penguins.

The way it has played out in Games 1 through 3 suggests the Penguins’ attention-getting finishing kick at the close of the regular season wasn’t a mirage. That the Penguins really are dedicated to playing the right way under Mike Sullivan. That the Penguins won’t lose focus or attention to detail for extended stretches and that they won’t come unglued at the first sign of trouble and end up becoming their own worst enemy.


“Guys committed,” center Matt Cullen gushed after the Penguins’ bounce-back, 3-1 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. “Last game (a 4-2 home-ice loss in Game 2) we weren’t real happy with our commitment level, in our end, in their end, wherever. I thought we did a good job of committing and battling and blocking shots when need be (in Game 3).

“We played a real determined game, I thought.”

I did, too.

What must the Rangers be thinking in the wake of all that?

They came back from the dead in the final three games on the way to eliminating the Penguins in seven in 2014 and did the same in five remarkably similar affairs last spring.

In each instance, the Penguins’ inability to make the required sacrifices and adjustments playoff hockey requires contributed mightily to their demise.

Some doubt along those lines surfaced again in Game 2, when the Penguins consistently turned the puck over and mismanaged it in the neutral zone and too often played into the Rangers’ hands while doing so.

But in Game 3 the Penguins responded with a resolve and a relentless attention to detail in terms of their approach and their execution, one that suggested it’s a whole new ballgame this time around.

The culture change Sullivan has orchestrated with the Penguins has been confirmed.

It wasn’t just a regular-season thing after all.

It’s the way the Penguins intend to roll this postseason, and now the Rangers know it.

It’s not a more defensive posture, per se. But the Penguins have bought wholeheartedly into Sullivan’s insistence on a “calculated” as opposed to a “high-risk” approach, and they’ve become a tougher team to play against and score upon as a result.

Cullen’s game-winning goal in Game 3 exemplified what it’s supposed to look like and what’s supposed to happen when the puck is managed as the Pens intend.

The play began with defenseman Ian Cole defusing a potentially dangerous situation in the third period of a 1-1 game by simply whacking the puck off the boards and out of the Penguins’ defensive zone.

Next, winger Tom Kuhnhackl merely did what he could to advance the puck from the neutral zone into the Rangers’ end.

From there, it was Cullen against defensemen Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle.

Yandle and Boyle botched the play and Cullen made them pay.

And that’s the kind of thing that can work repeatedly.

The Rangers aren’t perfect or impenetrable. They’re capable of being beaten to a puck or misplaying one in their defensive zone, and when that happens even Henrik Lundqvist can be beaten.

When it doesn’t, the worst-case scenario is the puck is out of the Penguins’ end and the Rangers have it but they’re a long way from being in a position to do any damage.

That’s how you win twice in three games in a series with two goaltenders each making his first career NHL playoff start.

The Rangers could’t have been anticipating that back when the series began.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section