Rangers slip past Penguins in Game 1 with OT win
Captain Sidney Crosby actually has never scored in overtime of a playoff game.
It only seems like he actually has never scored in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His postseason goal-drought is at 12 games – parts of 42 periods over two playoffs – and the Penguins are at risk of repeating a recent trend after dropping Game 1 of Round 2.
Center Derick Brassard's goal 3:06 into overtime lifted the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory Friday night.
Up 1-0 in a best-of-seven series, the Rangers will try to become the Penguins' third opponent in the last three postseasons to sweep Games 1 and 2 at Consol Energy Center. Philadelphia (2012) and Boston (2013) managed that, and each ended the Penguins' season.
Coach Dan Bylsma stated the obvious after Game 1.
“We have to come out and do it,” Bylsma said, referring to Game 2 at home Sunday night.
Bylsma also said the only thing a coach could about his struggling captain, insisting Crosby is not pressing and his linemates – at even strength or on the power play – are not forcing passes his way.
“No,” Bylsma said.
Crosby's teammates scarcely acknowledge their best player's slump. Still Crosby was on the ice for each of the Rangers' goals in Game 1, and he often looked nothing like a two-time NHL scoring champion or presumptive league MVP.
Crosby, with hands that once scored 15 goals in a postseason, struggled to cradle passes against the Rangers. He also appeared to skate at times in a fog — whether failing to track back during Rangers' transition rushes or slowly skating to the bench when Penguins defenseman Kris Letang tried to hit him with a pass on Crosby's first shift of overtime.
Letang ended up icing the puck.
Crosby repeatedly has denied he is injured, though video showed him favoring his foot early in Round 1. He played less than 20 minutes in Game 1. It was his fourth consecutive and fifth overall game of this postseason that Crosby has played less than 20 minutes in regulation. He also came in at under 20 minutes in three of his final five regular-season games.
Crosby rated first among forwards with 21 minutes and 58 seconds of average ice time during the regular season.
Against Columbus in Round 1, Bylsma took the unusual step of pairing Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin together on the top line along with left winger Chris Kunitz. That sparked Malkin to a hat trick in the Game 6 clincher against the Blue Jackets.
That Game 6, however, was one of only the past 11 in which Malkin has scored a playoff goal.
Malkin returned to his regular spot as the second-line center against the Rangers, and he recorded an assist on right winger James Neal's goal that pulled the Penguins even at 2-2 with about seven minutes left in the second period.
Malkin's assist was primary, but Neal would not have scored without his primary help.
Neal had ripped a shot that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist reached high for with his left glove. Malkin was practically on top of Lundqvist near the crease and his stick caught Lundqvist's arm. The puck fell behind Lundqvist and across the goal line. A video review at NHL offices in Toronto showed Malkin had not touched the puck, and goaltender interference is not enforceable by replay, so Neal's goal counted.
Malkin finished with only two shots after bullying his way to six in the Round 1 finale.
“The only thing about Evgeni's game is he was a guy who had opportunities maybe to shoot,” Bylsma said. “They weren't great opportunities to score, but opportunities to get the puck to the net in the first period.”
Bylsma said Malkin's line “played real well,” but he also stressed the Penguins' opening period was fairly distasteful — and not just because they fell behind 2-0 on goals by Rangers winger Benoit Pouliot and center Brad Richards.
They Penguins were out-shot, 13-8, in the opening 20 minutes.
Their opponent was playing a fourth game in six nights, and Penguins players had openly discussed the need to capitalize on a likely fatigued Rangers squad.
The second period, as Neal noted, was a lot better. His goal and the preceding one by Lee Stempniak – the second of the playoffs for each winger – had nullified all of the Rangers' seemingly exhaustive first-period work. The Penguins held a 23-17 advantage in shots entering the final period of regulation.
The Rangers, though, proved undaunted and turned the third into a 50-50 period – often requiring Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make high-quality saves to prevent a tiebreaking score.
He was unable to do that at 3:06 of overtime, when Brassard scored high to snatch the home-ice advantage for the Rangers.
Now, for the Penguins, a crucial 48-hour stretch begins Sunday. Games 2 and 3, the latter at Madison Square Garden, will be played on consecutive nights, and the Rangers have an opportunity to take firm control of the series.
“You don't want to fall into that position,” Crosby said, referring to a 0-2 series hole with a quick turnaround for Game 3 on the road.
Crosby is fourth all-time with an average of 1.26 points-per-playoff game. He is third among active players at .455 goals-per-playoff game.
He is accustomed to coming up big when it counts for the Penguins.
He is not, and neither he nor teammates seem to have a solution – or an acknowledgement that this might be a problem for the Penguins, who are 3-4 in one-goal playoff games dating to the 2013 Eastern Conference final.