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Penguins hanging tough - and winning - with Louis Domingue

Pittsburgh isnt’t winning despite having to play their third string goalie, in some ways they’re winning because he is giving them the chances to do so.

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Louis Domingue unexpectedly got thrown into a double overtime game for the Penguins in Game 1, and managed to stop everything he saw until the Pens could score a goal. That’s a good enough Disney-style unlikely story of the performance of a lifetime.

But NHL playoff series aren’t one game affairs. They are, of course, best of seven series designed to make teams have to earn it and prove it four times.

After Game 3, Domingue has helped steer Pittsburgh to two wins and take a lead on the series against New York.

The truly crazy part is — the Penguins aren’t winning **despite** Domingue, the two games they have won have been in part because of his play. Check out the charted expected goals from Moneypuck for Game 3.

In this image above, it really looks like the Pens feasted in the first period on poor goaltending play and ran up the score early on a goalie in over his head, then held on for dear life. In reality, we know that Igor Shesterkin had one of the best seasons of any goalies in modern NHL history and probably just had an off night.

The Rangers generated 4.05 expected goals, and Domingue yielded 4, so this should not be interpreted as Domingue standing on his head or willing Pittsburgh to a win. That did not happen, and probably isn’t likely to happen.

Domingue won’t be a great goalie if judging solely by save percentage, or even goals surrendered — he’s up to nine in the last two games. But goals given up in losses don’t matter, Domingue could give up 10 goals a game in losses if he can turn the page and give a winning performance.

The Pens don’t need Domingue to make every save, they just need him to make the ones to keep them in the game. On that level, Domingue passed the test of Game 3 in a major way.

After Pittsburgh’s collapse in the second period to turn a 4-1 lead into a 4-4 tie — a meltdown heavily featuring poor defensive play from the Mike Matheson and Kris Letang pair, to say nothing of Letang’s major error(s) while on the power play — Domingue and the defense stepped up to the plate.

From late in the second period to mid-way through the third, NYR received three power plays. Their power play was 40% (2/5) up to that point in the series, and a lead seemed likely. Three straight successful penalty kills gave the Pens something to build on.

But for a goalie who gave up as many goals as expected, Domingue possibly gave his best save at even strength. Artemi Panarin, who had already victimized Domingue with a heat-seeking missile of a shot right over his shoulder in the second period, got another look from the left side of the ice.

Screenshots can be a bit deceptive, but they also don’t lie. Here’s Panarin in the process of shooting and how much open net was staring right at him. Domingue has to move laterally, since the puck was passed across the ice to Panarin. The defender, Letang, is sprawling (in vain) to try and stop the puck.

Letang didn’t get it, but Domingue did. Less than a minute later, Danton Heinen would be able to score a goal and give the Pens a lead that this time they would not give back. Here’s the whole play at real time.

Domginue saw and felt that keeping the door shut on the Rangers early in the third period was the turning point in the game.

“I was very confident that we were going to win that game if we killed those two [third period] penalties,” Domingue said. “It gave us momentum, and then on that save, I kind of saw him out of the corner of my eye and tried to just put my body in front of it. That was kind of a wholesale moment, trying to just get the frame in front of it. It was a huge moment in my confidence in that series, for sure.”

And so for Domingue and the Pens, Game 3 goes down in the books as a very important win. For series tied 1-1, the third game can shape how the rest of the series will unfold. It has in recent Pittsburgh playoff history.

By gutting out the Game 3 win, Domingue has bought more time for Tristan Jarry’s foot to heal up and him to get back, and helped get the Pens that much closer to the second round.

And it’s another amazing chapter for a goalie living out a dream in real time at the NHL level.

“At the end of the day, we’re playing hockey. From the moment I brought my net outside in the street and put my rollerblades on and played outside and had cars go around my net, this is the film I was playing in my head the whole time,” Domingue said. “Even if it’s new to me, this is a film that I’ve been playing in my head for a long time.”