The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their postseason hex against the New York Rangers emphatically Saturday, lighting up Henrik Lundqvist in a remarkably easy 6-3 rout in Game 5 to win the series 4-1 and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Rookie Bryan Rust scored twice during a four-goal burst in the second period and Matt Murray made 38 saves for the Penguins. Pittsburgh which outscored the Rangers 14-4 over the final three games to gain a measure of revenge after New York ended the Penguins' seasons each of the last two years.
Tied at two, the Penguins simply skated by the older, slower and decidedly lethargic Rangers. Rust gave Pittsburgh the lead for good by tapping in a pretty feed from Trevor Daley at the top of the slot, the defenseman faking a shot before sliding a pass to Rust at the doorstep 5:21 into the second. The 39-year-old Cullen doubled the Penguins' advantage just over four minutes later when Rust's aggressive forechecking took two Rangers off the puck and left it sitting there for Cullen to whip over Lundqvist's glove.
Lundqvist, who stopped just 17 of 23 shots, failed to make it to the third period for the third time in the series.
All season long the Rangers battled inconsistency and I kept thinking that this was a team that knew it would get to the playoffs and was trying to save whatever extra they could for a playoff run. When the playoffs started I expected them to draw on their experiences, play a crisper, structured brand of hockey that would show how much better the Rangers were than they showed in the regular season.
It turns out that I was delusional in my thinking/hoping/praying as the Rangers mostly brought their regular-season level of play into the postseason.
As the season went on they showed they were a flawed team that struggled to manage the puck, struggled to deal with pressure and often left players wide open in front of the net. There is still part of me that thinks they will tighten up, stop turning pucks over and find a way to persevere, but alas, the Rangers season is over.
The toughest part of this run was obviously how much Lundqvist struggled in the past two games. As was the case most of the time this season he didn't get a ton of help but there were a number of shots that hitting the net that he usually stops. Maybe it's his eye, you almost hope there is an injury limiting him, but it's been a very long time since Henrik looked that uncomfortable in net.
This team will be different next year. I don't know how different or in what way, but with many players being holdovers the past two season it's time to break it up in some way. I don't expect the Rangers to throw in the towel and rebuild but I do expect them to try and be creative, move out some guys who have been here and get some new blood in.