PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Penguins answered the New York Rangers' desperation with frustration, and with a predictable result.
Sidney Crosby looked unhappy and exasperated during the Penguins' first playoff loss in eight games, their 3-0 defeat to the Rangers on Thursday night in Game 4 of the second-round series.
Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' best player so far with the possible exception of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, was so off his game after missing a penalty shot that he tried kicking out Paul Mara's skates near the end of the game. Mara called it a ``classless act by a superstar.''
For the first time in a series the Penguins still lead 3-1 going into Game 5 Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Rangers got to the Penguins, physically and psychologically. The Penguins spent more time yelling and getting into skirmishes than scoring, worn down by the Rangers' resiliency and composure.
``Emotions have been high in this series,'' the Rangers' Brendan Shanahan said Friday. ``We were just happy that we were able to remain focused and kind of finished the way we wanted.''
It was an uncharacteristic performance by a youthful Penguins team that has mostly played with poise, confidence and controlled emotion this spring, and it is one coach Michel Therrien doesn't expect to see again soon. Especially not Sunday at home.
``Playing Game 5 with a a chance to clinch the series, we feel pretty good about that,'' he said.
Therrien, who gave his players off Friday, insisted he didn't mind seeing his two young stars play with a bit of an edge. He agreed both were frustrated, but he excused that as being the byproduct of youthful aggression.
Therrien sounded like an overly patient parent during a long car ride, aware it was inevitable his youngsters would act up along the way but certain they will be rewarded at the end of the journey.
``Sidney's an emotional guy and when things aren't going his way, sometimes he gets frustrated,'' Therrien said during a conference call. ``You want him to be emotional, that's part of his game. You know the emotion's going to be there for the next game. When he's got that fire in his eye, this is where he can be dangerous.
``That's why I don't mind his emotional stuff.''
Therrien dismissed Malkin's slewfooting of Mara, saying it was nothing compared to now-injured Rangers forward Sean Avery's stickwork on Fleury at the end of Game 4. At the worst, he said, it would have been a two-minute penalty on Malkin.
``That's not a major thing,'' Therrien said.
Malkin's frustration, Therrien said, mimics Crosby's in that he is driven to win and the Penguins were merely displaying their unhappiness at not closing out the series in New York.
``That's the way he is, he likes to win, he likes to compete, he wants to be a winner, and I believe he might be a little bit frustrated,'' Therrien said. ``But on the other hand, those things happen. It is the emotion of the playoffs.''
The Rangers, aware that only two NHL teams have rallied from a 3-0 series deficit and that none has done so since 1975, no doubt want to extend that Penguins' frustration into Game 5.
If they can steal one on the road and send the series back to New York for Game 6 the next night, with little recovery time for Pittsburgh, they know it will be the Penguins who are clutching their sticks a little harder.
``Every game from now on is a Game 7,'' Scott Gomez said. ``We don't want this to end yet.''
Asked what his Rangers accomplished by finally winning, coach Tom Renney said, ``Maybe (putting) a bit of a dent in their armor. And we're talking about pretty thick armor here.''
What the Penguins couldn't match, for at least one game, was the intensity of Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, who scored twice. Every game could be the longtime star's last with the Rangers and he is playing like it, leading the NHL with 15 playoff points.
Jagr has seen previous Rangers-Penguins playoff series abruptly turn around - he led Pittsburgh back from a 2-1 deficit in 1992 and a six-game series victory - and he has cited the Red Sox's memorable comeback from the Yankees' 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS.
``I wasn't just talking when I said, `I believe,''' Jagr said.
What the Rangers need to do, he said, is not worry about a Game 6 or even a Game 7 but find a way to win Sunday.
``That was our goal (in Game 4), to make sure we play the next game,'' Jagr said. ``We're going to have that same goal in Pittsburgh, that's get this series back to New York.''
Which might really frustrate the Penguins.
``The urgency has to be there a little more,'' said Crosby, who doesn't have a goal in the series. ``We probably have to bring it up a little more.''
---
AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell in New York contributed to this report.
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