If Thursday proves to be Jaromir Jagr’s last home game as a member of the New York Rangers then he gave Rangers fans quite a show with his two goals and one assist as the Blueshirts staved of elimination. In fact, it was probably poetic justice that Jagr ended the scoring with his empty net goal in the waning seconds.

Jagr was not alone in his heroics. Henrik Lundqvist rebounded from a shaky performance in Game 3 to post his second career shutout – including his second penalty shot save of the playoffs.

The captain and the King had help from an undermanned squad that faces the long haul without the services of Sean Avery and Blair Betts. While the entire team raised their level of play and displayed a confident urgency, one player stands out. Chris Drury shook off the pain from an upper body injury to play a solid two-way game. Amazingly, he won 15 of 24 faceoffs after not being able to take faceoffs during the third period of Game 3.

Stan Fischler summed up the Rangers effort, simply and succinctly.

“It was all about heart – and the Rangers showed heart.”

Despite the team’s accomplishments, the night belonged to Jagr. The veteran showed that there is still gas left in the tank as fans filled the Garden with chants of “Ja-gr, Ja-gr!” and “Comeback Jagr”. Time will tell if he is going to return to the Rangers, but his NHL playoff leading 15 points speak volumes for his ability to step up in the big games. In his career, Jagr has played in 27 elimination game and he has tallied 32 points.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rangers playoff game without a couple of controversies involving the officials. First and foremost was the penalty shot awarded to Evgeni Malkin. I am still trying to figure out the reasoning behind Kevin Pollock’s call. While Malkin was in the clear on a breakaway, what exactly did Daniel Girardi that was wrong?

Obviously, Girardi did not hook, hold or interfere with Malkin. At best, he gave the Penguins center a slight shove from behind. Interestingly enough, had that occurred anywhere else on the ice, it would not be a penalty.

I doubt Pollock was whistling Girardi for hitting from behind because, as Dubi Silverstein (editor of Blueshirt Bulletin pointed out on the magazine’s blog) pointed out, such a penalty would be a major.

Actually, I expected the Penguins to be awarded a goal because replays appeared to show the puck crossing the line before the net was dislodged. Ira Podell of the AP explained the NHL’s ruling in his game story.

“A penalty shot was awarded, but a lengthy video review ensued first to see if the initial play was a goal,” Podell wrote. “It was waved off because Rule 78.5 states when a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net with the puck after making a save the goal will not be allowed.”

As bizarre as the whole penalty shot call was, Malkin’s attempt was even more bizarre. Rather than come in at full speed, as he had on the breakaway, Malkin opted for a leisurely stroll in on Lundqvist and shot the puck into the netminder’s glove. Malkin looked more like a reluctant regular season shootout participant as opposed to a superstar trying to tie a playoff game.

The stop on Malkin was the second time in the second period where Lundqvist stepped and bailed out Girardi. Prior to the penalty shot, Lundqvist stoned Ryan Malone on a breakaway after a Girardi turnover at the Penguins blue line.

One has to wonder what would have happened if Sidney Crosby had been blindsided by Jason Strudwick the way Jagr was blindsides by Brooks Orpik. First off, the Rangers would have been shorthanded for anywhere from two to five minutes and secondly Marek Malik would have been in the lineup replacing the suspended Strudwick.

I know many commentators said it was a clean hit, but then again these are the same people who said that Scott Stevens’ shoulder hits to the heads of opponents was legal as well.

Speaking of suspensions, does anyone doubt that Paul Mara would be suspended if he slew-footed Crosby twice on the same shift the way Malkin did to Mara? Give Mara credit, he didn’t pull any punches following the game.

“It’s a classless act by a superstar and there is no need for that in the game,” Podell wrote. “It’s not like it was just a little slew foot, it’s actually a full kick. We’ll put that in the back of our minds.

Looking back at the third period, the Penguins seemed to have lost their composure as they sense Game 4 slipping away. Both Crosby and Malkin took retaliatory penalties with 6:28 left after Girardi delivered a hard, but legal, check on Marian Hossa in the neutral zone. Toss in the Malkin slew-foots and the scrum following Jagr’s empty net goal and the seemingly unflappable Penguins seemed to have lost their cool.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Game 5 if the Rangers can get ahead early in the game. Will the Rangers have learned their lesson from Game 1 and will the Penguins repeat their Game 4 meltdown?

Looking ahead to Game 5, the Rangers must play with the same heart they did Thursday night. They will need to tighten up on the defensive mistakes – especially in the first period. The Penguins had eight shots in the first twenty minutes and all of them were good scoring opportunities.

Lundqvist must carry over his play from Game 4. The King was much steadier is goal and seemed more willing to step up and play with more aggressive style as he was more willing to challenge shooters rather than stay deep in the crease.

The veteran leadership must find a way to come to the forefront. Jagr and Drury already accomplished that on Thursday night. The Blueshirts need Scott Gomez and Brendan Shanahan to start finding their scoring touches and Martin Straka needs to get a new shipment of sticks because he had a couple of golden opportunities (including one on the first shift of the game where he fanned from the slot) that went for naught.

With all of these things considered, the Rangers must focus on two areas that are absolutely crucial to winning Game 5.

The first thing they must continue with the idea that they are not going to win this series all at once. It is a shift-by-shift, period-by-period, game-by-game struggle from here on out – a point echoed by Tom Renney in his post-game comments.

“What we need to do is understand what we need to do to win,” Renney stated. “The big thing for us is not to look beyond the next game.”

In looking at that next game, the Rangers have to make their special teams priority number one. As Lundqvist said in reference to special team play, “It’s been the difference in every game.”

As far as special teams go, the Rangers must continue to strive to eliminate the careless penalties. There was no need for Scott Gomez to take a high sticking penalty late in the third period. The Blueshirts can’t afford to take penalties other than those that prevent a scoring chance.

As for the power play, they need to continue to get traffic in front Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Penguins are going to be aggressive in checking the Rangers pointmen, then they need to work the puck down low along the goal or behind the net – much like they did on Brandon Dubinsky’s goal and much the same way they did against Martin Brodeur.

Here a couple of Game 5 statistics courtesy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

• The Penguins are 2-0 in Game 5s against the Rangers and 10-4 all-time in Game 5s played in Pittsburgh.
• The Penguins have gone two months without losing consecutive games. They were defeated March 1 in Ottawa after falling Feb. 28 in Boston.

Add to Yahoo Add to Google Furl this Add to Spurl Save to Del.icio.us Digg IT! Live Bookmarks! Blogmarks