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Rangers drop Game 3 to Penguins, who take 2-1 series lead

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers makes a save in the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The numbers don’t lie: Just 17 shots, a season-low against Matt Murray, a rookie goaltender, four in the final period. Zero-for-4 on the power play. Allowing a late power-play goal in the second period.

Add it up and the Rangers didn’t deserve to win Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and lost, 3-1, last night at the Garden. With the win, the Penguins, with their strong defensive structure, took a 2-1 lead in the seven-game series.

“The biggest issue was we couldn’t make any plays with the puck, breaking out of our end, getting through the neutral zone,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they had a real solid defensive performance. They were the better team tonight.”

It was the fourth straight home playoff loss for the Rangers, who are back here for Game 4 tomorrow.

With the score tied 1-1 going into the third period, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle got tangled in the neutral zone and Matt Cullen, at age 39 now a role player, skated in alone and beat Henrik Lundqvist low through his legs at 4:16. Kris Letang scored an empty-netter with 12.1 seconds left to seal it.

“That’s the playoffs,” Derek Stepan said. “Seems that miscommunication or a misread or a bad bounce and it ends up in the back of your net. Having said that, we did a terrible job getting through the neutral zone. That is exactly the reason why we didn’t get a single look in the third period. You have to get the puck in deep.”

The Penguins also won a coach’s challenge, which changed the momentum in the first period. After Brady Skjei won a battle in the corner, Chris Kreider’s rebound of his own shot on a power play at 12:56 appeared to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead. A review showed that J.T. Miller was offside when he collected Skjei’s pass from the neutral zone. Vigneault said it was the right call.

The Rangers seemed to lose momentum and did not cash in on the rest of the four-minute man advantage stemming from Conor Sheary’s high-stick that bloodied Dom Moore.

After a scoreless first period, Kreider was in the box for boarding when Rick Nash raced down the left side and fired a shorthanded rocket over Murray’s glove for a 1-0 lead at 39 seconds of the second period.

The lead stood until Marc Staal was sent off for hooking Carl Hagelin with a minute left. Phil Kessel’s pass from the left side slid to Sidney Crosby at the right and he tipped it past Lundqvist’s stretch with 42 seconds left. “I thought that down the stretch, we had a chance to be aggressive and not sit back,” Crosby said.

Despite 41 hits, the Rangers were not aggressive enough with the puck and knew it.

“We kept saying it, kept trying to tell ourselves, we have to shoot it,” said Ryan McDonagh, who played a team-high 22:48 in his return from a hand injury sustained two weeks ago. “It was a big emphasis. There were some more looks where we could have put some on him.”

The looks weren’t even there on the power play, when the Rangers tried in vain to find shooting lanes. “Obviously our PP was not great today,” Mats Zuccarello said. “We have to work on that.”

McDonagh wanted to wipe away the loss quickly. “We’re still in a good spot. We’re at home. We know these are going to be tight games. We were pretty positive going out for the third period and had some energy from the crowd. It’s a little disappointing we can’t get find a way to get a goal, so we have to respond.”

1. Matt Cullen. The former Ranger, now 39, who has played 1,295 games in his career, scored the game-winner. He has 42 points in 77 career playoff games.

2. Matt Murray. Wasn’t tested much, but the 21-year-old was thrown into the breach with just 13 NHL games under his belt and stopped 16 of 17 shots.

3. Rick Nash. Scored the lone Rangers goal on a shorthanded breakaway. Had four shot attempts, three hits and three blocked shots and broke up plays with his backchecking.

New York Sports