PITTSBURGH - The New York Rangers accomplished something Friday that they had never done at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh: beat the Penguins in Game 1 of a playoff series. They did so thanks to center Derick Brassard's game-winning goal at 3:06 of overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
"We thought we were in pretty good position after two periods to be tied in this building, played a real solid third period and got it done in overtime," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
Brassard's game-winning goal was initially waived off by the official because it appeared that his wrist shot from the slot hit the crossbar. A wild scrum ensued and left winger Benoit Pouliot deposited the puck into the open net to score what appeared to be the game-winner. But replay showed that Brassard's shot actually entered the net and did not hit the crossbar.
"I didn't hear a whistle," said Pouliot. "You heard the post. The way the puck came out. I had no clue. I was right beside the net, and I still had no clue. No whistles. You just have to keep going. It was a mad scramble."
The Penguins and Rangers are meeting in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth time in history, with the Penguins prevailing in all four of the previous matchups. The Rangers took a step toward reversing that trend with the Game 1 win.
On the other side of the ice, the Penguins have now lost five consecutive playoff overtime games, including three this postseason.
Despite the fact that this was the Rangers' third game in four nights, they were the team that jumped ahead 2-0 in the first period. The Rangers outshot the Penguins 13-8 in the process.
"For whatever reason, we didn't come out hard enough," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who has yet to score a goal this postseason.
Just 5:04 into the contest, Pouliot skated into the high slot and unleashed a hard, rising wrist shot toward the Pittsburgh net that rose over the right shoulder of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and just underneath the crossbar. It was Pouliot's third goal of the playoffs and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead on just their third shot of the game.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead with just under three minutes left in the first frame when left winger Carl Hagelin beat Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta to a loose puck on the forecheck and then threw a pass to wide-open center Brad Richards in the slot. Richards had enough time to take the puck on his backhand, turn back to his forehand, deke around Fleury and deposit the puck into the net before a Penguins player even laid a hand on him.
The Penguins came out a more inspired team in the second period, scoring two goals of their own and outshooting New York 15-4.
"In the second we kind of let them play and just sat back and watched," said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
Pittsburgh cut the Rangers' lead in half at 7:15 of the frame when right winger Lee Stempniak picked up a drop pass from forward Beau Bennett and displayed some slick stick handling down the slot before backhanding a shot past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to his blocker side.
The Penguins, who lead the NHL with three come-from-behind victories already in the playoffs, pulled even with the Rangers at 2-2 when left winger James Neal fired a laser of a wrist shot from the high slot that hit off of the chest of Lundqvist and popped high into the air. Center Evgeni Malkin was parked in front of the net and attempted to bat the puck in with a high stick. However, replay would show that the puck was not touched by Malkin, but hit the backside of Lundqvist and trickled in at 13:28 of the second.
"We found a way to battle back in the game and give ourselves a chance to win," said Neal. "I thought we did a good job in the second and third of getting to the net, putting pucks there and being physical and doing things in the offensive zone."
The Penguins nearly completed their comeback at 17:33 of the third when center Joe Vitale rang a wrist shot off the left post. Shortly thereafter, the Penguins were awarded a power play, but failed to convert for a fourth and final time in the game. The Rangers' power play was also ineffective, going 0-for-4 and has now gone 0 for their last 25.
Lundqvist made 34 saves to earn the win, while Fleury made 24 saves in defeat. Game 2 is slated for Sunday night at 7:30 in Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The Penguins held home-ice advantage in four of the five playoffs series against the Rangers. ... The Penguins have nine players on their roster with at least one Stanley Cup ring; the Rangers have two. ... Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury (87) and Rangers G Henrik Lunqvist (75) are first and second, respectively, in playoff games played among goaltenders remaining in the playoffs. ... Scratches for the Penguins were D Deryk Engelland, D Brooks Orpik (undisclosed), C Brian Gibbons (undisclosed), C Jayson Megna, LW Taylor Pyatt, RW Chris Conner and G Tomas Vokoun. Scratches for the Rangers were D Raphael Diaz, D Justin Falk, C Chris Kreider (hand), C J.T. Miller and RW Jesper Fast. ... The official attendance was 18,622.