NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers wanted to jump right on the Pittsburgh Penguins in their playoff series opener.
How about a goal at 28 seconds?
Derick Brassard provided that, then Ryan McDonagh scored later in the first period. Henrik Lundqvist made the goals stand up as the Rangers shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and won 2-1 Thursday night.
Game 2 is in New York on Saturday night.
Brassard got things started when Marc-Andre 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.
“I give a lot of credit to Rick,” Brassard said. “He didn’t shoot to score there. He shot for a rebound, he did it on purpose. It was just right there for the rebound.”
As were many other shots throughout the game as Fleury made 36 saves. The Rangers couldn’t get to the loose pucks the rest of the night.
But they got McDonagh’s winner on their slumping power play, which went 1 for 5.
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.
“We put a couple goals there in the first period, and got the crowd and momentum on our side,” the Rangers captain said.
“You get the nerves out, you get the hits and the bumps going. I thought guys were real good with the puck today for the majority of the game.”
The usually dangerous Crosby and Malkin didn’t have the puck much — Crosby had only one shot, Malkin two — and except for two strong shifts by Malkin in the third period, they were neutralized.
Crosby thought the Penguins were tentative at the outset, and their inability to keep the puck also wound up costing them.
“Their best defense was puck possession,” Crosby said, “and holding onto it in our end. You have to get pucks behind them and really work their D.”
New York earned 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 Fleury particularly outstanding. Lundqvist finished with 24 saves, while Fleury was far busier in making 36.
Blake Comeau scored in the second period for Pittsburgh. He knocked 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, which led to a tense, scramble third period in which the goaltenders dominated.
But Fleury lamented the quick error that put his team in a hole it never climbed out of.
“The rebound was not where I wanted it to be,” he said. “I wanted to get it into the corner, but that is not easy to do with a slap shot at that angle.”
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 and coach Alain Vigneault said afterward that Girardi was being examined by a dentist.
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