After strong performances in Games 5 and 6 to close out their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t find a way to turn up the intensity for Game 1 of their second-round series against the New York Rangers.
Playing their third game in four nights after going the distance with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Rangers figured to be a tired hockey team. But it was the Penguins who came out flat after three days of rest and practice and, by the end of the first period, New York had outshot Pittsburgh, 13-8, and built a 2-0 lead on goals by forwards Benoit Pouliot and Brad Richards.
“I thought they seemed a little more prepared and they were going right off the bat,” said Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi. “A couple good plays, a couple goals right into it. They’ve played a lot of hockey recently, but they had the jump in the first. We were hoping to get on them and make them play a lot [in their] D-zone, which we eventually did later on in the game, but it would’ve been nice to do it from the start.”
The Penguins found their legs in the middle frame, carrying the play, outshooting the Rangers, 15-4, and getting both goals back to tie the contest. Forwards Lee Stempniak and James Neal got the markers, with Neal’s undergoing review when Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist thought it had been knocked in by a high stick from Evgeni Malkin, who replay showed never touched the puck.
“I thought we did a good job of getting to the net, putting pucks there and being physical, and doing things in the offensive zone that we should’ve started with, but that’s hockey and that happens,” Neal said.
“I think we have to have more of a push-forward attitude; we’ve got to get in the offensive zone right away from the first shift and put pucks there, because that’s where the goals are going to be scored. It’s tough out there; they want to box you out and not let you get to the net, but we’ve got to fight for position and slots in there and bang home rebounds.”
“We were aggressive, forced turnovers, played in their end,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t scored in 12 playoff games and, despite repeated denials that he’s playing with an injury, appears to be struggling physically. “Nothing that’s new, but we were able to do it consistently, and it gave us a couple goals and a big boost there going into the third.”
The Penguins couldn’t carry the momentum into the third, however, playing the Rangers mostly even and continuing the sloppy defensive play that had characterized much of their game. Stempniak had a golden opportunity to give the Penguins the lead – and, effectively, the win – with just over 10 seconds remaining in regulation, patiently waiting for his defender to drop and taking a point-blank shot, but Lundqvist came up with the save to preserve the 2-2 tie.
The teams headed to overtime, where the Rangers once again had the better of the puck possession and got two shots to Pittsburgh’s none. In a decidedly quirky situation to end the game, both went in. Forward Derick Brassard rang a shot off the back bar of Marc-Andre Fleury’s net at 3:06 of the extra frame, but play continued until seven seconds later, when Pouliot put home another that left no doubt about the ending. A review determined that Brassard’s shot had, in fact, crossed the goal line and he was credited with the game-winner as the Rangers took the 3-2 win and stole home-ice advantage from the Penguins.
The teams reconvene Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center, and the pressure will be squarely on the Penguins to avoid a disastrous 0-2 start to the series at home.
“You can look back to a number of series, getting down 1-0 or even losing the first two and coming back, and many of the players in that room have done that, but we have to come out and do it,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “It’s a race to four and they got the first one tonight.
“It’s disappointing; you think you come back from [being] down 2-0 in the first period and make a push to win this game and we don’t, but you’ve got to have a short memory. We have Game 2 in our building here and you’ve got to come back and be ready.”
“You want to play with [that intensity] all the time but, the fact is, once you lose games in the playoffs and you start to feel the grip of death on your season, you start to play with a little more desperation,” Scuderi said. “So we’re one closer to being out, and I hope we bring that level to the next game.”