We cannot know exactly how this Rangers-Penguins playoffs series will end. But it is becoming much clearer after Pittsburgh's 4-2 victory Wednesday night, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has made the Rangers' problems all the thornier by lately playing his best two centers on the same line.
While it is certain that no one -- fans, Ranger players or Pittsburgh teammates -- should take their eyes off Sidney Crosby, his recent linemate, Evgeni Malkin, emerged the more spectacular in Game 4.
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Malkin's pirouette, no-look backhander just 2:31 into the game -- set up by Crosby's seeing-eye, cross-ice pass through two Rangers defensemen -- quickly ratcheted up the pressure on the Rangers.
By the time Malkin (and Crosby) assisted on the game's final goal, by Chris Kunitz at 14:04 of the third period, Madison Square Garden fans weren't exactly oozing sympathy for their own Rick Nash's scoring shortfall. "To have 87 [Crosby], 71 [Malkin] and 14 [Kunitz] playing like they were tonight," Bylsma said, "they're a force. They're tough to deal with."
While Crosby was his usual self, a mixture of easily overlooked subtleties and sudden, thunderous strikes from a clear-blue sky -- Malkin was the opportunistic stalker. And the two consistently found each other with telepathic passes.
In 19:59 of ice time, Malkin got three shots on goals, had another four blocked and another six just miss the target. Crosby played a high-octane 19:01, won nine of 14 faceoffs, got his seventh and eighth postseason assists and generally showed Pittsburgh the way forward.
"We were much more aggressive," Crosby said. "We didn't sit back, maybe because it was a one-goal lead and we were on our toes a bit more. Whatever it was, we had a better mind-set."
While Crosby endured a career-long dry spell of 13 straight games without a goal until his winner Monday night, Malkin leads Pittsburgh with 12 playoff points -- five goals and seven assists. Crosby is 1-8-9, Kunitz 3-5-8.
"I think the main thing is getting chances," Crosby said. "But you obviously want to score."
"Every time in a big game every player wants to play at their best and be the hero," said Jussi Jokinen, who got a weird-angle score off Marc Staal's leg in the third period. "I'm no different. You want to be that difference-maker. "But we are four lines deep. We know every one of us can do it."