NEW YORK -- When a team has no hope, where does inspiration come from?
A bubblegum wrapper? A cereal box? An infomercial?
Maybe for the members of the New York Rangers, they simply looked onto the ice at Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, a couple of guys whose faces will one day be immortalized on the walls of the Hall of Fame, and said simply, show us the way.
And so it was that captain Jagr, evoking a time when he was the dominant player in the NHL, pulled the Rangers one tiny but crucial step back from the abyss.
The big forward broke a 0-0 tie with a virtuoso goal, added a power-play assist and an empty-net goal as the Rangers shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 Thursday night. New York still trails this Eastern Conference semifinal 3-1, but as the Madison Square Garden faithful sent Jagr to the dressing room chanting his name over and over, there was at least the hint of something approaching optimism in the building and in the Rangers' dressing room for the first time in this series.
At the very least, this night will be a much more fitting farewell if indeed this is the final home game for Jagr and Shanahan.
"[Jagr] has just been phenomenal. Hands down the best player we've had in these playoffs and for a while. He's having fun out there and he's playing great," said young center Brandon Dubinsky, who scored the second goal of the evening, a power-play marker that was just the second with the man advantage for the Rangers in this series.
"The big thing with him is he really believes that we can come back and win this series, and he really believes that if we play the way we can, we can win some hockey games here," Dubinsky added.
With the score tied 0-0 just past the midpoint of the second period, Jagr skated the puck down the left side and deftly snapped a shot through defenseman Sergei Gonchar's legs and over the right pad of Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. A split second after he delivered the shot, Jagr was felled with a clean hit from defenseman Brooks Orpik that left him motionless for a few moments. But he did not miss a shift.
"I couldn't celebrate it. When I got hit, I was thinking about Jerry Maguire, you guys remember the movie? And I wanted to start dancing. I just couldn't do it," Jagr said with a smile.
The 36-year-old said he wasn't at 100 percent before he got his bell rung.
"I didn't feel very well. But I was telling myself, even if I'm tired, those guys on the other side are probably tired, too. I try to help somehow and I got a lucky goal," he said.
Rangers coach Tom Renney described Jagr as "a driven man right now."
"There's no question about that, and certainly for all the right reasons he wants this team badly to get back in this series."
Jagr now leads all playoff scorers with 15 points in nine games.
The story line heading into Game 4 has been the goodbye factor. Facing elimination, the Rangers were faced with the possibility of playing their final game with Shanahan and Jagr.
"As a coach you do think that way. You look at the opportunities to work with special people," Renney said. "Our guys are very aware of that. There's no question it's a matter of payback."
The suggestion was that the Rangers understood the privilege of having played with players like Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champ, and Shanahan, a three-time Stanley Cup winner. But after Thursday's game it was as though both those aging players were paying a debt of gratitude themselves. While Shanahan did not appear on the score sheet, he killed penalties, worked the power play and, driving the net like a man much younger than his 39 years, drew a penalty in the second period.
With Jagr's obvious contributions, it was a fine farewell if the Rangers can't extend the series to a sixth game here Monday.
"It's been impressive. There's no doubt about that. What [Jagr] does is elevate the battle level of other people," Renney said. "But so do others. Shanny's contribution to this team is not necessarily recognizable like Jaromir's is, but he's got broad shoulders, too."
For a long time, motivated or not, this Rangers team appeared to be seeking an excuse to fold its tent. It turned pucks over, rarely bothered to engage the Penguins physically and tempted the fates by taking penalties early in the game.
But Henrik Lundqvist -- the Rangers netminder who allowed five goals on 17 shots in an ordinary outing in Game 3 -- was in fine form in denying the Penguins. His 29-save performance included a brilliant right pad save on a Ryan Malone breakaway and then, with 2:07 left in the second period, a stop on an Evgeni Malkin breakaway.
Although, logic suggests Malkin did indeed score to tie the game as he and the puck both entered the Rangers' goal after he was nudged down by defenseman Daniel Girardi. But the on-ice officials signaled immediately for a penalty shot, and replays did not conclusively show the puck in the goal before the net came off its moorings.
As a result, Malkin was awarded what might well have been the most passive penalty shot of all time. After crossing the blue line, Malkin appeared to apply the air brakes, and by the time he glided close enough to shoot he appeared to be aiming for Lundqvist's glove.
"My bad. I don't like shootouts. It was my bad," said Malkin.
Pittsburgh coach Michelle Therrien said he was told there was no goal because Malkin had interfered with Lundqvist's ability to stop the puck. The coach joked that it was the first time he'd ever seen a player try to finish his check on a breakaway.
The game ended with some pushing and shoving, including the curious sight of the normally placid Gonchar threatening to fight Michal Rozsival, and Malkin and Sidney Crosby both in the penalty box after a mild dustup with Girardi, among others.
The loss ended the Penguins' playoff winning streak at seven. It also marked the first time this spring the Penguins did not score a power-play goal.
Renney said he hoped the loss would give the Penguins pause after being on such a roll.
"You hope so. I think the big thing is, if there's any doubt at all, that's better than none. This is a very good hockey team, and they didn't get up 3-0 on us because we handed it to them, either," he said.
The impact of a game like this is hard to gauge sometimes because it's simply hard to summon the same level of emotion as the team that is facing elimination, at least for one game.
"You have to try and do your best to match their desperation level. Can you put yourself that position down 3-0? I don't know," Crosby said. "You can do your best to match it, but I think our urgency has to be a little bit more there."
Sunday we will find out whether, as Jagr has suggested, there is some history in this team, or whether this was merely a brave swan song for a couple of the game's greats.
"We've got one more game. We said that was our goal, give ourselves a chance for one more game. It's up to us how we handle the next game," Jagr said.
• Part of the nastiness at the end of the game came after Malkin took down Rangers defenseman Paul Mara with a slew-foot. "That's a classless act by a superstar. There's no need for that in our game," Mara said. "It's not like it's a little slew-foot. It's a full kick if you watch the replay," he added. Malkin received a 10-minute misconduct on the play.
• Tom Renney made a number of adjustments to his lineup since Blair Betts and Sean Avery were unable to go because of injury; so Petr Prucha and Colton Orr returned to the lineup. Neither had an impact. Renney also sat defenseman Christian Backman and inserted Jason Strudwick.
• Gary Roberts was back in the Penguins' lineup after missing the previous five games with a groin injury (and being a healthy scratch). He took Max Talbot's place after Talbot suffered a foot injury in Game 4. The hard-nosed Talbot was wearing a walking cast on his right foot but he's considered day-to-day, coach Michelle Therrien said.
•The most recent team to win eight or more consecutive games at any point in the playoffs was the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. The record for wins from the start of a playoff year is nine, set by the 1985 Edmonton Oilers, who also won the Cup that year.
•By scoring at least one power-play goal in each of their first seven games, the Penguins tied a franchise record set in 1989. The NHL record for consecutive games with a power-play goal is 16, set by the 1988 Edmonton Oilers.
•Sometimes, Renney said, teams that have a huge series lead will "look to see how serious the other team is," which might account for the series being extended by at least a game. For the record, he said he did not expect the Penguins to be one of those teams.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.