PITTSBURGH - Pretty much everyone in the hockey world picked the Rangers to defeat the Penguins in the teams' first-round playoff series.
But pretty much everyone added a caveat: The Penguins do have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their side, and if they ever were to get hot, the balance of power could shift.
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All was well on that front for the Rangers in Game 1, when the two stars totaled three shots and no goals. Then came Game 2, when Crosby scored twice in the Penguins' 4-3 win.
That was one more goal than he had scored in his previous 19 playoff games combined.
Naturally, there was much talk Monday before Game 3 about where Crosby and Malkin would go from there.
The answer was a mixed bag for the home team.
Neither man scored in the Penguins' 2-1 loss. That extended Malkin's streak without a goal to 13 regular-season and postseason games. But Crosby was plenty active, clanging the puck off a post in the first period, nearly poking a backhand past Henrik Lundqvist in the second and assisting on Patric Hornqvist's goal in the third.
He also joined in the chippy play that characterized Game 3, bowling over Lundqvist after the whistle, even though fans booed the goaltender for an overly dramatic reaction.
Fans also booed when Keith Yandle spent more time than is customary riding Crosby out of a play. Yandle promptly launched a long pass to Carl Hagelin that led to the first goal.
"I don't think that cost us the goal, but I understand they're allowed to play after the puck's there, but I thought it was a little longer than they needed to," Crosby said.
Malkin had a few effective moments in Game 3 but finished with no shots on goal.
One reason for his recent struggles presumably is a back issue that has limited him.
But on the teams' off day Sunday, he said he is feeling better by the game, estimating he is operating at 85 to 90 percent of normal. "I feel pretty good, but I can play better; I know that," he said. "Physically, it's good."
Malkin is important; Crosby is even more so. Did his teammates think he was relieved Saturday to put a couple of pucks past the goaltender at last?
"I don't think it was weighing on him, no. He just kind of goes and plays," Brandon Sutter said before Game 3. "It's good to see him break through, but he's played solid for a while."
Said Chris Kunitz, also before Game 3: "Sid getting a couple of goals I think makes everyone feel a little more comfortable that we're going to put up more goals than one or two a night."
But on Monday night, there were none for Crosby and only one for his friends.