NEW YORK - Many of the Penguins insisted their “battle level” was higher in Game 6 against the New York Rangers.
Of course, the bar wasn't set very high in Game 5.
Rangers forwards again displayed more passion than the Penguins in the early going and, as a result of New York's 3-1 win, Game 7 will be played on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.
“I don't know what it is about how we play at the beginning of games,” rookie defenseman Olli Maatta said. “But the start tonight is what cost us the game. We need to be so much better.”
Two of the New York goals — right wing Martin St. Louis' tally just 3:24 into the first period and center Derick Brassard's in the second — were blatant examples of the Rangers willing their way to goal-scoring areas and simply being able to operate untouched until a goal was scored.
On the first goal, instead of taking a man around the net, the Penguins allowed St. Louis, the NHL's Art Ross Trophy winner last season, to stand alone to Fleury's left. The puck eventually caromed off St. Louis and into the net, while the Penguins essentially stood and watched. This occurred during a stretch that saw the Rangers fire 12 of the game's first 14 shots.
The third goal for the Rangers — and this was the backbreaker, as the Penguins were surging in the second period, down 2-1 and having breakaway attempts by Brian Gibbons and Marcel Goc snuffed by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist — was the real backbreaker.
Fleury made a save on left wing Benoit Pouliot's save from the right wing boards but was unable to handle the rebound cleanly.
With defenseman Kris Letang trailing the play in front of the net, Brassard simply outmuscled defenseman Paul Martin and center Brandon Sutter.
Brassard shoveled the puck past Fleury, but it came up short of the goal line.
However, Brassard bulled his way to the front of the cage with Sutter and Martin unable to move him.
The third goal still was on the Penguins' minds after the game.
“I actually thought we had energy,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “Our battle level was higher. Once again we fell behind, and we had to play from behind again.
“I thought we were OK until midway through the second period. Then we got disjointed. We weren't playing as a group. That's when it gets really hard to come back.”
The Penguins have played 12 games in this postseason. They've fallen behind by at least two goals in the first period four times.
“In the first round,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “three of our four wins were come-from-behind. This series, it's been every team that's gotten off (to a good start). We were fighting from behind for (56) minutes. It was a hole we couldn't dig ourselves out of.”
Speaking of holes, the Penguins' season will be buried if they fail Tuesday against the Rangers.
(Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.)