|"VICTORY IS MINE! PENGUINS WIN!"|
The Rangers used a strong first period to take a 2-0 game lead, and would hold on to take a 1-0 series advantage.
Both goalies, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury and New York's Henrik Lundqvist, played solid hockey, with Fleury in particular keeping his team in the contest when the Rangers were playing on a heavily tilted sheet of ice.
For the Penguins, superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would once again held in check as the Pens were forced to fight off four first period penalties (one of which resulted in a Rangers goal).
Saturday's game had a later-than-usual start time of 8:30 as the NHL held its annual draft lottery to award the first picks in the forthcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft (the Edmonton Oilers won the rights to draft presumptive hockey wunderkind Connor McDavid).
First Period Action:
The Pittsburgh Penguins did not do their week-old Pepsi routine to open this game (which is to say, they didn't come out flat), and they actually had more jump and possession than the Rangers throughout the game's first five minutes, although neither team was able to register a shot on goal.
Crosby would actually get the game's first quality scoring chance, taking a feed in the neutral zone and just missing with a wrister to the far side.
Whenever Evgeni Malkin hit the ice, the Rangers' strategy was obvious: they had a man effectively shadow #71, and if the puck came near him, the defender on Malkin would receive support and they would harass the big Penguins' center.
Mats Zuccarello would have a short-side 2-on-1 opportunity that Fleury easily squared down, and even after Ian Cole went off for a high-sticking penalty, Pittsburgh was able to fend off the New York attack and keep the game scoreless.
The game wouldn't remain scoreless, as seconds after Fleury robbed Derek Stepan from in tight, Stepan took a beautiful cross-ice feed from TJ Miller and went top shelf on "the Flower" to give the Rangers the 1-0 lead.
On the ensuring shift, two New York defensemen activated, and Marc Staal actually had himself a virtual breakaway in the slot during a 4-on-3, but the puck wandered off his stick following a Fleury poke check.
|If we found out that Chris Kunitz was using ACME|
hockey sticks & skates, everything would be explained
Chris Kunitz would then get on the scoresheet...no, of course not for scoring a goal...after he high-sticked Rick Nash behind the play.
If nothing else, this Penguins team is consistent: unnecessary penalties in all situations.
(facepalm) Anyway, the Pens' PK would keep the Rangers at bay for the remainder of the period, and the clock hit all zeroes with New York leading the Penguins 1-0
In what was an offensive barnburner of a first period (just 8 total shots, 5 for Pittsburgh, 3 for New York), the bulk of play was in the neutral zone with neither side able to generate much in terms of possession (the Stepan goal came off the rush).
Second Period Action:
The second period opened with Gold Medalist Chris Kunitz in the penalty box...
Quick segue: MY GOD, remember when all of us thought he belonged on that Canadian Olympic team? In the immortal words of Fred Willard's Mike Fontaine in A Mighty Wind, "Whaaaa happened?!"
...anyway, yes, all of that, and the Rangers were still on the power-play to start the stanza.
In a way, Chris Kunitz in the penalty box was something of a boon, as it meant he couldn't be out on the ice.
Chris Kreider almost scored 20 seconds into the second period as he floored past a flat-footed Ben Lovejoy, and only a Fleury poke check (coupled with a Scuderi midair swat) kept the puck out of net.
The Penguins would then somehow muster a ridiculous 5-on-2, and while the Pens couldn't beat Lundqvist, they did manage to get a quality shot on net.
Lundqvist would also make a near-miraculous glove save through a 7 person screen on a Lovejoy slapper from the high point, prompting an incredulous look out of the Penguin defenseman.
Patric Hornqvist would take Pittsburgh's third consecutive penalty of the game when he went all "Samurai Chef" on Kreider's stick.
Brandon Sutter created his own shorthanded opportunity when he feigned inside-out and got himself in shooting position in the right circle. His wrister actually beat Lundqvist but struck the iron to the left of him.
Carl Hagelin then tripped up Taylor Chorney on a Michel Therrien "sofffffff" penalty call to give Pittsburgh and their terrifying power-play a chance at evening the game.
While still shorthanded, the Rangers got lucky when the referees thought Paul Martin deflected a skied New York clear that went straight into the stands.
Rather than get discouraged, the Pens' #2 PP unit had good possession, and following a deflected/bouncing puck, Brandon Sutter went Babe Ruth and buried an airborne puck past a scrambling Lundqvist to tie the game at 1-1.
|I would take the Red Snapper over Nick Spaling. True story.|
Pittsburgh would celebrate tying the game by taking their fourth penalty of the game (!!!!!!!!!!), with Nick Spaling being sent off for an obvious (see: STUPID) boarding call.
As Kuni from UHF would say: "STUUUPID! YOU'RE SO STUUUPID!!"
Not so stupid was Maxim Lapierre, who while on a 2-on-2 with Crosby, let Crosby cross in front, inadvertently dragging two over-zealous Rangers defenders with him. Lapierre had anticipated this and whipped a shot that flew past a clearly-stunned Lundqvist and barely missed the net.
Patric Hornqvist would then split two Rangers defenders, and even after Lundqvist stopped his backhander and with two players draped all over him, was able to get enough on the puck to center it past the Rangers' goalie's pads into the waiting arms (stick, really) of Sidney Crosby, who buried it.
Crosby recognized his own struggles with emphatic head nodding that would make Will Ferrell, Chris Katan, and Jim Carey proud.
Unable to get out of their own way and apparently not satisfied with having a 2-1 lead, Pittsburgh would take ANOTHER penalty to give the Rangers ANOTHER chance to capitalize with the man-advantage.
This time, it was Ian Cole with his second infraction of the game and the fifth overall for the Pens.
Taylor Chorney made a critical shot block from the slot to keep New York off the board, and the Pittsburgh PK managed to kill their fifth penalty.
The momentum swing was palpable, and on an ensuing shift Chris "I STILL HATE YOU!" Kunitz made a brilliant saucer pass that a falling Crosby redirected past Lundqvist to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
For Crosby, the feature of an NBC segment that asked what was wrong with the hockey superstar, the two goals in just over 3 minutes was amazing vindication.
For what it's worth, with just 25 seconds left in the third and the faceoff in New York's end of the ice, Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston loaded up with both Malkin and Crosby, eschewing his normal tactic of putting his worst Corsi For players on the ice.
The second period was a lot more wide-open, with the Penguins peppering Lundqvist with 11 shots and the Rangers making Fleury make 10 saves.
The Pens would enter the third period with a 3-1 lead, which is important because as we all know, Pittsburgh hadn't won a game the entire season when trailing after two periods.
Third Period Action:
Rob Scuderi of all people almost made it 4-1 when his trailer shot from the point deflected off of about 11 things before heading into the corner.
The Rangers were then awarded their sixth penalty of the night when Blake Comeau's stick hit
This time, New York's power-play had excellent puck movement and Fleury was forced to scramble from side to side, even losing his stick at one point.
The Rangers kept up the barrage of shots, and finally Derick Brassard corralled a loose puck in a scrum and slid the puck past #29 for a power-play goal that made the game 3-2.
Fleury was valiant throughout, but would be put to the test when Brandon Sutter took the Penguins' seventh penalty of the night to put New York back on the power-play. Again.
AGAIN. MY GOD AGAIN.
The Rangers rung a shot off the post and Maxim Lapierre was hobbled, but otherwise, the Pens killed the penalty off without much trouble.
The Pens would get their own power-play chance when Taylor Chorney drew his second penalty of the night. Crosby was shaken up when Carl Hagelin went out of his way to interfere (see: hit) Crosby near center ice.
Chris "I WILL AVENGE YOU, CROSBY!" Kunitz did just that, burying a rebound past Lundqvist to reestablish a two goal Penguins advantage, 4-2.
Keith Yandle would then be whistled off following his cross-check to Blake Comeau's face, and the 2-for-2 Penguins power-play would be given another chance to perhaps put this game out of reach early.
The Pens' second unit, so effective on their first two opportunities, couldn't muster much in the way of offense, and the Rangers killed off their first penalty of the night.
The next few minutes were very uneventful, as the Rangers had clearly become mentally undone and had abandoned their transition game, which until this point had been very productive for them.
The Penguins were content to buckle down and collapse toward Fleury, and after Lundqvist was pulled, Chris Kreider was whistled for tripping in the offensive zone.
This put Pittsburgh on the power-play for the majority of the contest, with only a 20 second discrepancy on the PP/game clock.
The Penguins had a chance to ice the game, but Evgeni Malkin foolishly tried to feed Crosby for the hat-trick instead of just shooting the puck into the gaping maw that was the untended New York net.
In traditional heart attack fashion, after Fleury flagged down a lose puck, Rick Nash would find the net to make the score 4-3
In the end, it didn't matter, as the Penguins held on for the 4-3 win and the all-important 1-1 series tie, effectively giving Pittsburgh home ice advantage for the duration of the series.
The Pens nearly scored another as time expired, but no matter: Pittsburgh was back in the series and looking to wreck havoc with play resuming at home at the Consol Energy Center on Monday.
Penguins win, Rangers lose, Flyers don't get McDavid: all in all, a perfect night.