PITTSBURGH (AP) – Patric Hornqvist had his first playoff hat trick and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled away from the New York Rangers 5-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Wednesday night.
Hornqvist added an assist, Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists and backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff did just fine in his first postseason start, finishing with 35 saves. Tom Kuhnhackl also scored for Pittsburgh, which took advantage when New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist left with a facial injury after the first period.
Game 3 is Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Lundqvist played just 20 minutes after taking a stick to the face from teammate Marc Staal. Antti Raanta was shaky in Lundqvist’s place, stopping 16 of 19 shots.
Derek Stepan scored twice for the Rangers but New York never led as its quest to knock the Penguins out of the playoffs for a third straight year got off to an underwhelming start.
The Penguins ripped off a 14-2 surge to end the regular season even with Fleury sidelined since March 31 with a concussion. He returned to practice this week and was the first goaltender off the ice during Wednesday morning’s skate, typically an indication of who is starting. Coach Mike Sullivan remained coy about his decision-making process, and when Pittsburgh came out for warm-ups in their vintage black-and-gold uniforms, Fleury wasn’t even in uniform, instead sitting in the press box in a blue suit.
That left the job to Zatkoff, who’d played just five times since Jan. 1 after losing his spot as the primary backup to rookie Matt Murray. Yet with Murray out indefinitely with a concussion of his own, the Penguins gave Zatkoff the first postseason start of his three-year career, or 110 fewer than Lundqvist.
Zatkoff didn’t exactly look overcome by the stage. Good thing because his teammates gave him little help early. New York dominated the opening minutes, throwing shots at Zatkoff from all angles rather than trying to set anything up. Zatkoff lacks Fleury’s athleticism but managed to scramble when required, keeping the Penguins afloat early while his teammates took time to find their legs.
Then, in an instant, New York’s decided advantage in the net disappeared.
Staal was fending off a Pittsburgh player in front of the New York net when his stick became wedged in between the bars on Lundqvist’s mask with 48 seconds to go in the first period. The goalie who has been the backbone of deep playoff runs each of the last two years writhed in pain for several moments before slowly skating to the bench. He stayed in the game long enough for Pittsburgh to take the lead when Hornqvist flipped a rebound between Lundqvist’s legs with 18 seconds left.
Lundqvist stayed in the dressing room at the start of the second period, forcing Raanta to unexpectedly make his postseason debut. He had little to do until a stretch pass from Hornqvist sprung Crosby in alone. The wrist shot zipped over Raanta’s glove 18:56 into the second and the Penguins were up 2-0.
New York’s drew to 2-1 when Stepan stuffed in a shot from the doorstep on a 5-on-3 but Pittsburgh countered with a short-handed goal from Kuhnhackl 5:31 into the third and when Hornqvist pounced on a loose puck in the Rangers’ crease and eased it in, the Penguins were up three and in control.
NOTES: The teams held a pregame moment of silence for longtime Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, who passed away earlier this week. … Stepan has six goals in his last six games. … Pittsburgh dressed seven defensemen rather than the usual six and scratched forward Tom Sestito. … The Penguins improved to 21-14 in Game 1s at home. … Both teams went 1 for 5 on the power play.
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