Friday night in Pittsburgh the Rangers let an early 2-0 lead slip away, but found the resolve to beat the Penguins in overtime, 3-2, to grab Game One of their best-of-seven Metropolitan Division Finals series, just 48 hours after eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers in a decisive Game Seven on Madison Square Garden ice. Game Two of this best-of seven second-round series will be played Sunday night, also at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Derick Brassard was credited with the game-winning goal 3:06 into overtime off a feed in front of the Penguins net from Benoit Pouliot, though the on-ice officials originally waved off the goal thinking incorrectly Brassard's shot had hit the post. Play continued and seven seconds later Pouliot wristed one into the back of the cage to make it a moot point until off-ice officials correctly awarded the game-winning goal to Brassard after the game was over.
"I thought it was in, I felt like it hit the inside of the goal," explained Brassard, whose goal was his first this post-season. "It doesn't matter because we got the job done. I'm just happy we won this game. It's obviously huge when you win the first game because it puts a lot of pressure on the other team. It's a big win for us."
Pouliot finished the night with a goal and an assist, while Dan Girardi had a pair of assists and blocked a game-high four shots. Marc Staal earned the postgame Broadway Hat after logging a team-high 26 minutes 3 seconds of ice time, and playing a major role in keeping Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet and helping hold star teammate Evgeni Malkin to one assist.
The overtime contest was the first for the Rangers during these playoffs. Their last post-season playoff contest was in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Broston Bruins last spring at The Garden when Chris Kreider scored the game-winner in a 4-3 Blueshirts victory.
The Penguins are now 0-3 in overtime this spring, having previously lost twice in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
Henrik Lundqvist was terrific in goal for New York, finishing with 34 saves. He made sure to get this game to overtime with a series of big saves late in the third period, including one on a wide-open Lee Stempniak drive through a screen with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
"All we've done is win one game so we're going to rest up tomorrow, have a couple of good meetings to get ready for an opponent against whom we have a couple of things we need to do better," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "We played our whole bench and our guys had good energy. We responded with a real good third period in a tight game that could have gone either way. Our goaltender made some big saves and gave us a chance to win it in overtime."
At the other end of the ice, after a slow start Marc-Andre Fleury was solid in the Penguins net, turning aside 24 shots. He, too, made a huge stop in the final seconds of regulation--on a Marty St. Louis deflection--to keep the score tied 2-2.
The Rangers and Penguins started the third period in a two-all tie after two completely opposite periods of play to start the series. The visitors controlled the puck and the play throughout the first period, and snagged an early 2-0 lead; but the Penguins dominated the entire second period, outshooting New York 15-4 and outscoring the Rangers 2-0 to forge a tie through two periods.
Pouliot, who had scored the game-winner in Wednesday's Game Seven clincher over the Flyers, opened the scoring Friday night just 5 minutes 4 seconds into play. He collected the puck in his own end, skated through the neutral zone and over the Pens blue line, and finally snapped a shot blocker side past Fleury and into the net for his third post-seasom goal, giving New York an early 1-0 lead.
"It's huge to come into Pittsburgh and win, especially because they are such a great team," said Pouliot. "It's the NHL. You just have to figure out a way, and we did that tonight."
After several near misses, the Rangers finally did double their advantage with 2:57 to play in the first when Brad Richards netted his third of the playoffs. Strong on the forecheck, Carl Hagelin chased down a Girardi pass in the right wing corner, and then zipped a pass to a wide open Richards in the low slot. So open was Richards that he was able to turn, maneuver the puck, and then beat Fleury before any defenders came near him.
While extremely pleased with the results of the first period, the Rangers would later rue the fact that they did not score more than twice against Fleury. St. Louis had two wide-open shorthanded chances, both set up on the same shift by Mats Zuccarello, which he shoveled wide of the Penguins net; and Rick Nash was stoned in tight by Fleury on another prime opportunity during the opening 20 minutes.
After outshooting Pittsburgh 13-8 in the first period, the Rangers were on their heels most of the second. The Penguins controlled the entire flow of the period, killed off three Ranger power plays, and scored twice. Without the strong play of Lundqvist, the Rangers could have easily found themselves trailing entering the third period.
Stempniak and James Neal did put pucks past Lundqvist to even the score during the second period, however. Stempniak slipping a backhander past Lundqvist off the rush at 7:15, and Neal sending a shot from between the circles off Lundqvist's stick/blocker, up in the air, landing behind him and just over the goal line at 13:28.
Lundqvist argued that the puck was struck with a high stick by Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin who was standing to the goalie's left, but a video review clearly showed that Malkin never touched the puck and Neal was credited with the game-tying goal.
"I didn't see the puck, it went straight up and I tried to find it and then I see his stick just around my head, so when it went in I just hoped he had touched it," explained Lundqvist, who made 12 saves in the third period and another one in overtime. "It was a good goal, though. When I saw the replay I could see that."
To the Rangers credit they came out skating much better in the third period, and even had an excellent chance early in the period to regain the lead, but St. Louis was robbed point blank by Fleury. Lundqvist evened the score several minutes later when he made a flashy glove save on Malkin's blast after a Staal turnover during a Penguins power play.
Neither team was able to get untracked on the power play in Game One Friday. The Rangers were 0-for-4 and had very few good looks on the power play. They have been held without a power play goal through their last 25 man advantages dating to Game Two against the Flyers.
The Penguins had some better chances to score than did New York, but they also finished the night 0-for-4 on the power play.