The big news of the open would be Jeff Zatkoff leading the team on the ice. Marc-Andre Fleury apparently wasn't cleared by doctors for the game, so even though he practiced like the #1 this morning, he wouldn't be able to play in Game 1. The Penguins also elected to play 11 forwards and 7 defenseman, basically trading Olli Maatta for Tom Sestito.
The Pens get on the board first, late in the first period. After an extended stoppage for Henrik Lundqvist to get his faculties together following a scary moment where Marc Staal 's stick accidentally got into his eye area, Hank returned to finish out the period. Conor Sheary makes a hustle play, gets it to the front of the net and Patric Hornqvist scores from the middle to make it 1-0 Pens after 1 on a shot that a completely non-rattled Lundqvist probably would have stopped.
Here's the video of Lundqvist's injury. He would not return for the second period and would be replaced by backup Antti Raanta .
Lundqvist's injury https://t.co/kdvT4WBxEA— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 14, 2016
Sheary was all over the place, look at him on this tremendous back-check, but sort of evidence of a recurring problem for the Pens with defensemen getting trapped up ice. 7D problem with new pairs and unusual allotment of ice-time? Or just random execution that NYR exploited with transition? Either way, not great, but nice to see Sheary's speed negate what could have been bad.
This back check by Sheary was awesome. Really using his speed to play offense AND defense. pic.twitter.com/Rflkbni9Gl— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) April 14, 2016
Late in the second period Hornqvist makes a perfect pass up to Sidney Crosby to avoid two diving NYR defenseman. Crosby catches the hard pass with one hand and stays on-side (because of course he does) and is in all alone on Raanta. 2-0 Pittsburgh
Tough times in the third period, the Penguins get two penalties on the same sequence giving the Rangers a full two minutes of a 5v3. Derek Stepan was sitting at the back-door for about 15 seconds all alone and finally Rick Nash finds him for an easy goal to make it 2-1.
Stepan on the power play, makes it 2-1 pic.twitter.com/QAC2so2bhJ— Ryan Ohanesian (@ryanohan) April 14, 2016
While on the ensuing power play, NYR again had a guy on the weak side in perfect position for a goal, but Dan Boyle saw Ben Lovejoy 's stick swipe in at the perfect time to deny another goal. Nick Bonino carries the puck the other way and delays, delays, delays and places a beautiful pass for Tom Kuhnhackl to one-time in the net to score a short-handed goal to make it 3-1 Pens.
The Pens would soon get another power play and finally looked competent on it, Kris Letang and Crosby do some work on the outside, Phil Kessel and Hornqvist crash the net and Horny finds the loose change to slam home to make it 4-1.
The Rangers wouldn't go down easy, with 9:49 left, Zatkoff leaves a rebound right for Stepan, who makes no mistake and roofs the puck to make it 4-2.
Crash the net, stick on the ice, good things will happen. Stepan gets his second of the game, Penguins now lead 4-2 pic.twitter.com/lX8raGygfK— Ryan Ohanesian (@ryanohan) April 14, 2016
But the Pens would hold on and Crosby would make a nice pass for Hornqvist to score on the empty net to seal the deal at 5-2.
- Zatkoff was great all night, but especially early. Shots at one point were 12-3 Rangers, despite the Pens having the games first two power plays. Usually the road team has to weather the storm early, but Pittsburgh had to hold on for dear life instead, and they did.
- Speaking of those early PP's, the less said, the better. Pittsburgh was totally ineffective and actually generated more on a penalty kill than those power plays. Go figure. Two more second period PP's and they finally recorded a shot on goal on the 4th man advantage...Before breaking through in the 3rd period for a goal, of course, but it wasn't pretty early.
- All 3 penalties were very weak calls. Viktor Stalberg got sent twice to the box for ticky-tack (at best) calls and then Eric Fehr went for snowing the goalie (and mainly on his shoulder, at that). Later that period, the refs blew the whistle and 2 seconds later Keith Yandle blatantly shoots the puck late out of frustration. No call. Tim Peel, ladies and gentlemen.
- Conor Sheary was probably the Pens best forward early, using his speed and some hands to make some plays and setting up the Pens first goal. A bright side of playing 11F, in theory, because it means more opportunities for Sheary (commonly the least used F on the team) to double-shift with skill like Hornqvist.
- After 1 period of Pens/Rangers and we've got Zatkoff and Raanta in goal. Just like everyone thought, eh? Playoffs can be such a roller coaster. The Lundqvist injury, luckily, didn't appear to be super, super serious for what a stick in the eyeball could have been, and he has until Saturday to make Game 2. Now the question becomes will he? Will Fleury? Will both? Neither? So many questions.
- It gets old hearing things like "you get Patric Hornqvist to play in the playoffs" but tonight was a good reminder why that is true. Hornqvist was great, and when it's tougher to find space on the ice, he excels at fighting for it. 3 goals, and a beauty of an assist as well.
- The Rangers certainly seem to have a power play...play. Looking for a guy on the goalie's right for the tap-in. Worked for Stepan's goal and almost worked again for Boyle before a timely play by Lovejoy to deny it. Hopefully Pittsburgh gets the adjustment to that on video (even though there's only so much you can do when it's 3v5).
- In one of our previews we mentioned how one way the Rangers overcome that is by blocking more shots than almost anyone in the league at 16 per game in the regular season. Tonight was the opposite with Pittsburgh blocking 22 of NYR's shots compared with only 10 for the Rangers. Hopefully in the future less total rubber will by flying at the Penguins' goal.
- 35 saves on 37 shots by Zatkoff and man. Give him his due, for the first start since Feb 20th he was more than good tonight.
- Justin Schultz only got 5:52 of ice-time, despite playing pretty well and having a flash play or two in the offensive zone. It doesn't seem like any injured forward is close to slotting back in, so the Pens might have the luxury of going with 7D for a while, but if they had to make a lineup decision, would they take Lovejoy out as the right-side 3D in favor of Schultz?
In the NHL, one game does not a series make. The Pens have blown a 3 games to 1 series lead over the Rangers not so long ago, after all. But still, in a game where the starting goalies are Zatkoff vs.Lundqvist, the Penguins won tonight. No better feeling in the world than being a winner this time of year, now each team gets a couple of days to rest, regroup and we'll see what twists and turns this one has for next game.