Using their speed, skill and offense, the Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling over the New York Rangers

NEW YORK -- They say the playoffs are a different game. They say that teams that aren't tough enough, aren't gritty enough, have to be different to have success.

Maybe that's only true if you let it be so.

Maybe success comes from holding true to what you believe is your own best way.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are now one win away from advancing to the second round playing exactly how they did during a torrid second half of the regular season by unleashing a speedy, skilled lineup that has left the battle-tested New York Rangers bereft of answers.

And more to the point after Thursday's rather shockingly one-sided 5-0 victory by the Penguins, they have left the Rangers with zero wiggle room in which to find answers amid a boatload of self-doubt.

"We just have to man-up to the situation here and realize that this was not good enough," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled after giving up four goals on 18 shots through only 26 minutes, 4 seconds of play Thursday night.

"We are playing a really good team," he added. "Obviously, it's my job to be there when we have breakdowns, but I was not good enough today."

With all due respect to Lundqvist, the face of a franchise that has been to two Eastern Conference finals and one Stanley Cup finals since 2012, the Rangers' problems extend far, far beyond goaltending.

It's fair to say when this series began -- the third straight year in which the Rangers have faced the Penguins -- the question was whether the Penguins could keep doing what they had been doing since Mike Sullivan took over as head coach for Mike Johnston on Dec. 12.

Could they keep on playing with speed, rolling four lines and hoping their defense could continue to get pucks out of their own zone without being bounced around by the Rangers?

The fact they are up 3-1 in this series implies the answer, and certainly Thursday's win might have been the most complete game turned in by any one team on any night in this year's playoffs. The Pens were led by Evgeni Malkin's stellar four-point night -- the most he has collected in a postseason game since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, the year they won the Cup.

Defenseman Ian Cole said it took some time, but they were able to turn Sullivan's game plan into habit rather than consciously thinking about it.

"So how does that transition into the playoffs?" Cole said. "It's hard because every game is so much harder. There's a lot less room on the ice. It seems like every play you make is magnified if it doesn't work out. So I think you really need to be sure about what you're playing."

What the Penguins have displayed for the most part in this series -- which is now on the brink -- is a fundamental belief that their abundance of speed and skill is the bedrock on which playoff success can be built.

"Playing with speed I think is something that does transition well to the playoffs because there is so little ice to play on, and being able to stretch the rink, being able to create space with speed is really a benefit to us," Cole said.

The Penguins scored three times with the man advantage and twice more off the rush in Game 4.

Eric Fehr drove to the net and pushed home a rebound off a hard Ben Lovejoy shot just 1:09 into the game. Conor Sheary blazed down the left side and sent a rocket over Lundqvist's shoulder to make it 3-0 just over 16 minutes into the game.

"This team is really hard to beat when they can settle into their trap and play that neutral-zone game," said Fehr, who has played on a line with Malkin the past two games. "It's really tough to get pucks deep on them and they do a good job breaking it out."

Not on this night. Not in this series.

Speed and skill. Skill and speed.

For a Rangers team that cannot match either weapon, New York must find a way to disrupt Pittsburgh's defenders and somehow beat rookie Matt Murray, who has given up only one goal early in the second period of Game 3.

Given the confidence with which the Penguins are executing their game plan -- whether it's with the man advantage where they are now a scorching 7-for-19 in the series or at 5-on-5 -- it is a steep hill the Rangers must climb to extend this series beyond Game 5 on Saturday, let alone moving on in this playoff year.

"At this point there is no reason or point to try and describe what happened," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We weren't playing up to our potential and the way that's necessary for us to have a chance to win a game."

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Penguins blank Rangers to take 3-1 series lead
Penguins blank Rangers to take 3-1 series lead
Evgeni Malkin scores two goals and Matt Murray makes 31 saves as the Penguins defeat the Rangers 5-0 to take a 3-1 series lead.

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