RANGERS 2 – PENGUINS 1
(Rangers lead series, 1-0)
Coming in to Game 1, two things need to happen for the Penguins to be competitive and to at least make it a long series:
1. Take advantage of nights when they get great goaltending from Marc Andre Fleury
2. Win the Special Teams battle with an opportunistic power play and a strong penalty kill
The Penguins got the goaltending tonight in Game 1 as Marc Andre Fleury turned aside 36 of 38 shots and while the Penguins only had one power play, excellent work on the penalty kill kept this game closer on the scoreboard than it really was as the Penguins were 6-for-7 on the PK.
As a major underdog the Penguins had about as bad as a start you could have.
Derrick Brassard scored 28 seconds into the game on a set rebound play as Rick Nash fired a slap shot low off Fleury’s pad and Brassard pounced on the juicy rebound as the Rangers roared out to a 1-0 lead.
It was Fleury’s one lapse of the night but the Penguins as a team all got caught sleeping on the first shift. Paul Martin was thinking about where he’s going to sign this summer and reacted far too late in letting Brassard get to the slot untouched.
The first period would then be a game of Men against Boys as the Penguins racked up four minor penalties in a 10:41 span.
6:02 Chris Kunitz Interference against Henrik Lundqvist
8:54 Taylor Chorney Interference against Tanner Glass
14:33 Blake Comeau Roughing against Dominic Moore
16:43 David Perron Slashing against Carl Hagelin
The refs established early they were going to call the ticky-tack stuff and the Penguins who were the NHL’s most penalized team, fell right into the trap.
“We took too many penalties in a post-season game,” Rob Scuderi told reporters afterwards.
The Rangers would finally score on their third power play of the period, a Ryan McDonagh power play goal at 15:12 of the period.
The biggest positive for the Penguins is they didn’t implode after being badly outplayed in the first period and falling down 2-0.
Fleury kept them in the game and the Penguins best line of the night, the fourth line, would strike in the second period as Blake Comeau scored his first career playoff goal, 6:15 into the second as the line of Nick Spaling – Max Lapierre – Blake Comeau created a presence down low and in around the net and Comeau scored on a scramble in front.
Comeau was rewarded with his strong play to being bumped back up to the second line as the game progressed.
Spaling also got some looks in the top-6 and Lapierre was used some shifts as more of the third line center than the fourth.
Lapierre was 9-15 (60%) on faceoffs, including 8-11 (73%) on defensive zone draws.
“They gave us good minutes,” Mike Johnston said of the fourth line. “Tonight they gave us momentum.”
Penguins coaches also looked for a spark in moving Chris Kunitz up to the top line mid-way through the game and demoting Daniel Winnik to the fourth line, but Comeau’s goal would be the Penguins only one of the night as troubling trends continued in struggles to score and most troubling — low quality scoring chances/shot attempts for long stretches –.
The Penguins were outshot 38-25 in the game, including 31-23 at 5 v 5 and rarely tested Lundqvist in the first 30-35 minutes of the game.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were quiet for much of the game, minus a shift here and there. Crosby had 1 shot and just 3 shot attempts. The Penguins captain has 1 goal in his last 19 playoff games.
Malkin had 2 shots on goals and 5 shot attempts.
Including the regular season, Malkin has no goals in his last 11 games.
The Penguins got out-executed and will all series, but game 1’s are a pivotal game for an underdog like the Penguins to steal as the favorites are vulnerable in Game 1’s and despite being out-executed and out-played, Pittsburgh squandered an opportunity to steal a game when they got the goaltending.
The Penguins got a strong start from Marc Andre Fleury with a save percentage above .945 and an impact game from the fourth line. Have to take advantage of those situations as you don’t know how many of those will be there the rest of the series, especially the rare game they got from line No. 4.
In last years second round matchup, Fleury gave the Penguins two quality starts, shutouts in games two and three. The Penguins won both games.
He had a save percentage under .900 in the other five games, Pittsburgh lost four of the five.
The scoreboard from Game 1 might give false hope that the Penguins have a chance in this series but this game was much more lopsided in the Rangers favor then the score indicates.