Jussi Jokinen netted his sixth goal of the playoffs in Game 4. Credit: Getty Images
The Rangers are one game away from being eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs after a wretched 4-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 4 of the Metropolitan Division final Wednesday night at the Garden.
The Rangers trail the best-of-seven series 3-1.
Game 5 is set for 7 p.m. Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"I'm not going to lie to you, this is not the ideal night for us," Brad Richards said following a closed-door team meeting after the game. "The amount of time and effort we put into trying to put our best game on the ice, and for whatever reason we just didn't put it together. We got in our own way and uncharacteristically didn't execute."
For a game head coach Alain Vigneault termed "as close to a must[-win] game" after the morning skate, the Rangers were surprisingly passive. After two periods, they trailed 2-1, had been outshot 17-11 — including 10-5 in the second period — and out-attempted 48-26.
For the game, the Penguins finished with a 27-15 advantage in shots and out-attempted the Rangers, 66-38. The Blueshirts also had 25 giveaways.
"I think we're trying to put our best effort forward," Dan Girardi said. "It's not going, obviously. It's not pretty. We're trying to make plays; it's hitting stuff. [They're] keeping us in our own end. We just have to find a way to play with confidence and create those plays, get some offense."
The Rangers never led in Game 4, as Evgeni Malkin put Pittsburgh on the board 2:31 into the match with a spinning backhander that eluded Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves).
"I don't want to take any credit away from Pittsburgh," Vigneault said. "They forced the play. They played a real solid game, [and] obviously forced us into a lot of turnovers. Our puck management and our execution wasn't very good, and ultimately cost us the game."
Carl Hagelin tied the game at 1-1 5:30 into the second period with his third of the playoffs. Hagelin's goal, a snapshot which beat Marc-Andre Fleury (13 saves) five hole, ended the Rangers' scoreless streak at 145:30.
But the Rangers would never take a lead.
Brent Sutter tapped in a short-handed goal at 18:27 of the second, and Jussi Jokinen added an unassisted even-strength marker 7:02 into the third to put the Pens up 3-1. Mats Zuccarello cut the deficit to 3-2 with his third goal of the playoffs, but Chris Kunitz's goal at 14:04 allowed Pittsburgh to regain the two-goal advantage.
By that point, the 18,006 fans in the Garden had taken to verbally expressing their displeasure with the Rangers, Nash in particular.
Nash came into the game leading all players in playoff shots with 41, but had not scored a goal this spring. He misfired on four attempts in Game 4, most notably whipping a drive high and wide as the Rangers came in on a 3-on-1. In 27 career playoff games, the left wing has recorded 12 points (two goals and 10 assists).
"I understand sports and where it's all at," Richards said of Nash, who was booed every time he touched the puck in the third period. "But it's not one person, it's the whole team. We didn't play tonight. For one guy to get booed or whatever it is, it's frustrating."
For the first time in this playoff season, the Rangers were essentially whole as Kreider drew back into the lineup. Kreider, who had been out since March 28 after having surgery to repair a broken left hand, was paired with his usual linemates Nash and Derek Stepan.
Kreider attempted three shots in 15:24 of ice time and committed a two-minute minor for high-sticking Sidney Crosby in the third period.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman.