NEW YORK (KDKA/AP) – Derick Brassard and Ryan McDonagh scored in the first period and Henrik Lundqvist made the goals stand up as the New York Rangers won the opener of their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Thursday night.
New York shut down Pittsburgh’s top threats, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for a fourth straight victory over the Penguins in the postseason. The Rangers won the final three games of a second-round series last year, rallying from a 3-1 deficit.
In compiling the best record in the NHL, the Rangers finished 15 points ahead of Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. But after the first period, these were two very even teams, with Lundqvist and Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury particularly outstanding. Lundqvist finished with 24 saves, while Fleury was far busier in making 36.
“I think we were just, we were tentative,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “I thought that the first period probably we were guilty of thinking a little bit too much, trying to play the right way, be disciplined, play our position, but sometimes you’re thinking out there, you’re not reacting and you’re a little bit behind.”
Blake Comeau scored in the second period for Pittsburgh.
Game 2 is in New York on Saturday night.
Brassard got things started only 28 seconds in when Fleury sent the rebound of Rick Nash’s hard slap shot directly into the slot. Brassard was uncovered for a quick wrist shot, the center screaming in delight as the puck went in.
The Garden fans were celebrating again late in the period when New York’s slumping power play connected. On its third of four man-advantages – and the only one that threatened – in the opening 20 minutes, McDonagh’s slapper from midpoint sneaked past Fleury.
“Because we’ve got half the guys sitting on the bench and not playing and keeping their legs warm, and by the time we pull ourselves out of those penalties, the period is pretty much over, so it’s certainly not something we can repeat,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi.
Although New York kept control early in the second period, Comeau lifted the Penguins within one, knocking in a rebound with congestion around Lundqvist’s crease for his first career playoff goal. That perked up the Penguins, with Malkin and Brandon Sutter getting dangerous chances, and Lundqvist flashing his right pad to thwart Maxim Lapierre.
Fleury also was strong at the other end, with the Rangers unable to convert several rebounds off his sharp saves.
That led to a tense, scramble third period in which the goaltenders dominated.
The last time the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy was also the last time they won the Stanley Cup, 1993-94, with a star-laden lineup. This group doesn’t have a Mark Messier or Brian Leetch, but it is deep and resourceful.
Having made the finals before losing to Los Angeles a year ago has given the Rangers a sense of confidence they’d lacked for much of the interim. On Thursday, they showed it in particular in shutting down Crosby and Malkin.
Pittsburgh, whose defense is ravaged by injuries, barely squeezed into the postseason, needing to beat lowly Buffalo on the final day. The Penguins also have the bitter memory of blowing that 3-1 lead to New York last year. That was the only playoff series in which the Rangers have beaten the Penguins.
NOTES: Lundqvist tied Walter Tkaczuk for the team record with 93 playoff appearances. … New York had four power plays before Pittsburgh got one. … Comeau has 12 regular-season goals against Lundqvist. … Penguins D Rob Scuderi left early in the third period after going down hard to the ice, then returned. Later, Rangers D Dan Girardi had Chris Kunitz’ s shot deflect into his face. Girardi went directly to the locker room.
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