(Photo: NYRangers Instagram)
It only took 28 seconds for the New York Rangers to remind everyone why they finished at the top of the league this season. Dan Girardi sent the puck up the ice to Rick Nash, who shot a rocket at Marc-Andre Fleury. Derick Brassard charged down the (wide open) middle of the ice to put in the rebound, and just like that, the Rangers took the lead and all the momentum in the game. They never looked back.
The Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 at Madison Square Garden to take a 1-0 lead in the first-round playoff series. From the beginning, the Rangers took hold of the game and dominated the puck possession, outshooting the Penguins 38-25. Henrik Lundqvist had 24 saves in the win and played a strong game in net.
The Rangers spent most of the first period in the Penguins’ zone, while the Penguins spent almost half of the period sitting in the penalty box. They took four penalties in the first 20 minutes, and the Rangers converted on one of their power plays, a goal by captain Ryan McDonagh at 15:16, to increase their lead to 2-0 going into the first intermission.
The Penguins woke up midway through the second period, and Blake Comeau cut the Rangers’ lead in half at 6:15 after Lundqvist stopped a flurry of saves in the crease. The game picked up in intensity from there, but the Rangers were able to keep up their strong offensive pursuit and shut down the Penguins’ biggest players. The Rangers’ defense also stepped up big and prevented the Penguins from really establishing an offensive rhythm; Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist were held to one shot apiece, while Evgeni Malkin had just two on the night.
Fleury was pulled for the extra skater in the closing minute of the third period, but the Rangers were able to ward off the Penguins’ offensive pressure and skate away with the victory on home ice.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
-The Rangers were just 1 for 5 on the power play tonight, and this percentage will need to improve as they move through the postseason. Pittsburgh has been the most penalized team in the NHL this season, so the chances for power play goals will certainly be there as the series continues. The Rangers need to take advantage of these 5-on-4 opportunities and make the Penguins pay for their penalties.
-Despite the rocky start, Fleury played a solid game for Pittsburgh in goal. The Rangers will need to keep getting pucks to the net and challenging Fleury, who has not had the best luck in his past playoff performances. The Penguins are also missing two of their key defensemen–Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff–so the Rangers need to take advantage of this weakened blue line and stay active and persistent in the Penguins’ zone.
-The Rangers’ major concern coming out of this game is the loss of Girardi, who left the game in the third period after getting hit in the side of the face with the puck. He went straight to the locker room accompanied by medical staff and did not return. If his injury is significant enough to put him out of action for any number of games, the Rangers will feel his loss on the blue line. Kevin Klein, who was originally slated tonight after missing five weeks with a broken arm, skated this morning but did not dress for the game. With Girardi’s status currently unknown, the Rangers will need Klein’s defensive presence now more than ever.
Rangers lead the series 1-0. Next game is Saturday, April 18th at 8pm.
Where: Madison Square Garden.