Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

PITTSBURGH - Success in the NHL playoffs, as in life, is about adapting to changing circumstances, and so the Rangers did here Monday night in their most important game since last June.

Faced with an inferior, ornery opponent that has made it a mission to frustrate one of the league's most high-flying offenses, the Rangers shook off their lackluster effort in Game 2 and did what they had to do.

They scored a couple of clever, opportunistic goals, were solid on the penalty kill, played good defense for most of the night and got the usual solid effort in goal.

End result: a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.

Now the best road team in the NHL can take complete control with another road victory Wednesday night.

Not that it was easy. Is it ever?

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The Penguins scored with 6:48 remaining and kept up the pressure in the waning minutes as fans at Consol Energy Center reached and sustained a fevered state.

Pittsburgh had more shots on goal in the last period than in the first two combined. But the Rangers held on.

"We wanted to play physical and show we have just as much push as them," Ryan McDonagh said. "For us going on the road, we feel confident in kind of an 'us-against-the-building' mentality, like I've said before.

"We kind of thrive on that. Being booed, it's fun."

The key to the defensive effort, McDonagh said, was cleaning up problems from Game 2, a 4-3 loss in which turnovers and failure to get the puck through the neutral zone cleanly gave the Penguins too many opportunities.


"Tonight we did a good job of making sure we made them go the whole length of the ice," he said.

The game began with a pattern that has become familiar: The Penguins took an unnecessary penalty -- Ian Cole cross-checked Tanner Glass in the back -- and the Rangers failed to capitalize.

Even a wrinkle the Rangers unveiled failed to help. One of the power-play combinations featured only one defenseman, with center Derick Brassard manning one of the points.

Fortunately for the Rangers, another theme turned around later in the period. For two days, players on both sides had talked about the Penguins' ability to bottle up the Rangers in their own end and cut off long passes that led to breaks.

Then the first goal came on a long, accurate pass from Keith Yandle to Carl Hagelin just outside the opposite blue line. He streaked down the middle past the Penguins, who were caught in an awkward line change, and blew a slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury.

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"You want to silence the crowd,'' Hagelin said, "and that's what we did."

The Rangers' second goal came just after the end of a power play. Marc Staal bounced the puck off the boards to Chris Kreider, who swatted it out of the air and into the net.

But the biggest drama was yet to come. The Penguins scored to make it 2-1 with 6:48 left, then spent most of the rest of the game storming the Rangers' end.

"It was a weird game for me," Henrik Lundqvist said, referring to what had been a quiet night suddenly turning scary. "I had to kind of wait for their push."

Lundqvist even got caught up in the extracurriculars when Sidney Crosby appeared to bump into him and knock him over after a whistle. Fans booed the goaltender for what they thought was a dive.

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"I expect it this time of year, some slashes and cross-checks," Lundqvist said. "That doesn't really bother me. I know it's coming. I've played these guys for a lot of years. I just try to stay focused."

There was some doubt about the Rangers' ability to do that in Game 2. They answered Monday night, at least for the first 53 minutes.