The Rangers managed just five shots in the third period, half as many as the Penguins, and the Penguins were steadfast in their commitment to playing strong defense. Paul Martin, for one, broke up a dangerous rush by Brad Richards with about five minutes to go in the third and, in the same sequence, Malkin backchecked diligently to thwart another Rangers rush.
As for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the subject of so much debate in recent days, he was the best player on the ice not named Lundqvist. He was held without a goal for the 13th straight postseason game but he was a dynamo, at one point undressing Ryan McDonagh and rifling a shot over the Rangers' goal. He led all Penguins and was tied for the game lead with six shots.
Letang said Crosby was inspiring to everyone in the Penguins' locker room.
"Good win for [Fleury]. I think he played outstanding," Letang said. "Sid was the most dangerous player out there tonight. But to put them on their heels with the momentum right now, it's huge."
Letang might illustrate the great distance this team appears to have come since the start of the playoffs. Early on against Columbus, he was benched briefly and looked out of sorts in the first few games. On Sunday, he was solid in his own zone, scored the winner and added two assists. His goal, the 15th playoff marker of his career, tied him with Hall of Famer Larry Murphy for first among Penguins defensemen in career playoff goals.
No two games are the same in a season, Letang said.
"We try to do our best every night," he said. "Sometimes there's mistakes but tonight I think we respond really well."
On the home side, the Rangers will be looking to prove Monday night they're not what they looked like for most of Sunday night's loss: worn out.
Monday's game will be their fifth in seven days and already this series is following the pattern of their seven-game, first-round victory over the Philadelphia Flyers that saw them unable to win two games in a row.
Whether fatigue was a factor in Sunday's loss or will be a factor in New York on Monday, it's hard to imagine the Rangers will be able to keep pace with the Penguins going forward if they don't solve their power-play woes. They went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and now have gone 29 straight opportunities without finding the back of the net.
Their inability to generate much on the first three chances early in the game was especially disappointing. So was the play of Rick Nash, the other star whose lack of production is a significant storyline in this series. He had three shots and a couple of decent looks but is still without a goal this spring.
"It's just good to get home," said Richards. "We came in here, got a big win in two games and now we go home and we'll use our fans and our energy and try to jump on them there. The great thing is if you get a win tomorrow right away and our goal is that, and that's two out of three and that sets you up good."
Still, Lundqvist and other Rangers noted that Game 2 featured a stark difference in the amount of time they spent in the Penguins' zone from Game 1.
"They just spent a lot of time in our own end. That was the biggest difference," Lundqvist said. "They came hard the whole night. It was something we expected."
With such a short turnaround, part of the challenge for both teams will be the mental element of the game. The Penguins will be trying to guard against a letdown, while the Rangers will be trying to keep the idea they might be tired from becoming a reality.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault observed that Lundqvist didn't look tired. And if he wasn't tired, then no one else in that room should feel tired either.
For better or worse we won't have to wait long to find out who earns top marks in the second part of this test of wills.