They skated hard, dominated the shot clock and even scored three goals, which will win teams a lot of playoff games. None of it though was enough to keep the New York Rangers from seeing the end of their season staring them in the face.
You can say the Rangers were done in by the work of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, or the ill-advised penalty by Ryan Hollweg that led to the Penguins game winning power play goal, and certainly by Evgeni Malkin, who celebrated being named as a Hart Trophy finalst earlier in the day with a pair of goals and an assist. Each explanation would be valid for New York falling behind 3-0 in this Eastern semifinal.
But the Rangers are on the brink of elimination after losing 5-3 at home tonight because they simply haven't figured out a way to beat these Penguins. New York couldn't do it when the teams played run-and-gun in Game 1 or close to the vest defense in the second game. And there was no tangible benefit from the emotional boost the Rangers got from playing Game 3 at home. Even having captain Jaromir Jagr turn in his best game of the playoffs didn't help.
There was a time once when the future Hall of Famer could win games on his own when he played with the intensity he had in Game 3. The 36-year-old Jagr was the best player on the ice -- involved, aggressive and relentless in his battles -- but the Penguins are clearly the better team in this series. Despite the relative youth of its lineup, Pittsburgh is playing with the kind of poise one might expect from a group of veterans like New York's, and that has been the fundamental difference in this series so far.
This was desperation time for the Rangers and they played like it. It jmeant little though against a Pittsburgh team that doesn't need many chances to score and has learned to shut down opponents far more efficiently that it is often given credit for.
The Penguins survived New York's onslaught largely because Fleury was exceptional, but the young goalie got a lot of help from his teammates who threw down their bodies to block 17 shots and killed off all five Rangers power plays. Pittsburgh's age did show through when it let up after taking a 3-1 lead and allowed New York to draw even, but the Pengains regained their focus and were ahead again by the end of the second period.
Pittsburgh sealed the deal with another goal in the third period and is in position wrap things up on May Day unless the Rangers can respond to their own distress call. Don't count on it.