The Pittsburgh Penguins know they haven’t won their opening-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.
A basic understanding of low-level math is all that requires.
And a grasp of franchise history doesn’t hurt, either.
After all, the 3-1 series lead they grabbed with a 7-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena Monday night matches the one they built during the second round in 2014.
That lifted those Penguins to within one victory of a berth in the Eastern Conference final. Trouble is, New York won the final three games of the series, bringing the Penguins’ season to an abrupt and agonizing end.
Mind you, the Penguins scored as many as four goals only once in those seven games. Which is to say, one fewer than they got in the second period alone Monday night.
After putting four pucks past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin during the first period of their 7-4 victory in Game 3 Saturday, the Penguins got goals from Mike Matheson, Jake Guentzel, Mark Friedman — yes, Mark Friedman — Danton Heinen and Jeff Carter during the middle 20 minutes 48 hours later.
That was a bit too much for even a team with New York’s quick-strike offensive capability to overcome.
Which means the Penguins will have a chance to grab a berth in the second round versus the winner of the Carolina-Boston series with a victory in Game 5 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The start time has not been announced yet.
Although the Penguins did a lot of things right in Game 4, their forecheck was the best part of their game. They consistently got pucks into the New York end and kept it there.
It also helped that they were dominant on faceoffs, particularly when there was any suspense about how the game would turn out.
Second-line right winger Rickard Rakell and top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin of the Pittsburgh Penguins sat out their third consecutive games because of unspecified injuries. No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry has not played in the series because of a broken bone in his foot suffered during the regular season.
Ryan Lindgren, who plays opposite Adam Fox on New York’s top defense pairing, missed his third game in a row. He had been a candidate to rejoin the lineup for this game.
The Rangers, understandably eager to not be shoved to the cusp of elimination, started strong and took a 1-0 lead at 2:06 of the opening period, as Alexis Lafreniere used Kris Letang as a screen and beat Louis Domingue from above the right hash mark.
He scored on New York’s first shot of the game.
New York defenseman Patrik Nemeth picked up his fourth penalty of the series when he high-sticked Evan Rodrigues at 10:37, and the Penguins’ top power play unit finally looked like, well, itself.
Forty seconds after Nemeth went to the box, Sidney Crosby jammed a shot past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin at the right post to make it 1-1.
That sequence led to a video review that lasted longer than some Hollywood marriages, but referees Kelly Sutherland and Jake Brenik eventually confirmed that Crosby’s shot had crossed the goal line.
The Rangers got a chance with the extra man at 15:38, when Crosby was sent off for tripping Mika Zibanejad, but the only damage they did during those two minutes came when a Zibanejad shot appeared to strike Chris Kreider in or near the throat.
Kreider immediately skated off the ice and went to the New York dressing room for medical attention, but returned for the start of the second period.
By the time the next intermission arrived, Kreider probably wished he had stayed in the room, because the Penguins took a chokehold on the game — and perhaps the series — then.
Matheson started their rampage at 3:14, when his shot from the left side of the high slot hit a New York player on the way to the net and eluded Shesterkin.
Guentzel deflected in a Bryan Rust shot for his fifth goal of the series at 3:38, and Friedman hammered a shot past Shesterkin from the slot at 11:22 for his first career playoff goal.
Crosby’s assist on Guentzel’s goal was his 200th career playoff point, making him the sixth player in NHL history to reach that milestone.
Adam Fox threatened to short-circuit the Penguins’ momentum when his pass to Kreider in front of the net hit Matheson’s skate and got past Domingue, but the Penguins scored twice in the final 67 seconds of the period to put the game out of reach.
Heinen tipped a Letang shot behind Shesterkin at 18:53 and Carter put in a feed from Jason Zucker 35 seconds later.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant replaced Shesterkin with Alexander Georgiev for the third period — he did likewise 20 minutes into Game 3 — and Georgiev responded with another strong performance, although Evgeni Malkin threw a backhander by him at 12:22.
Was it strong enough to merit starting Georgiev over a likely Vezina Trophy winner in Game 5?
Gallant insisted after the game that he’s sticking with Shesterkin, but a switch might be something to consider if he hopes to recreate what his team did against the Penguins eight springs ago.
Then again, he has plenty of other things to think about over the next day or two, as well.