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. Game Two will be played Sunday night, also at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Derick Brassard seemed to beat Marc-Andre Fleury off a scramble in front a little more than three minutes into overtime, but the referee waved off the apparent goal and play continued. Benoit Pouliot followed by hamerring a shot past Fleury at 3:13 to make the controversial no-goal call a moot point.
Henrik Lundqvist was terrific in goal for New York, finishing with xx 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.
At the other end of the ice, after a slow start Marc-Andre Fleury was solid in the Penguins net, turning aside xx 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.
Benoit Pouliot, who 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. Pouliot 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.
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 Dan 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. Marty 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.
Lee 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.
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 seveal minutes later when he made a flashy glove save on Malkin's blast after a Marc 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.