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Rangers lose Lundqvist to injury as Penguins take a Game 1 victory

Bobby Bevilacqua

Rangers vs Penguins Game 1 4-14

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

It’s a good thing that it’s a seven game series.

Patric Hornqvist scored a hat trick as the Pittsburgh Penguins took down the New York Rangers in Game 1, 5-2, backstopped by a 35 save performance from Jeff Zatkoff, their third string journeyman goaltender.

What’s worse? Henrik Lundqvist took an errant stick to the eye and was removed from the game after the first period. Antti Raanta was forced into his first career playoff game, and although three goals on 19 shots doesn’t look great, he was fantastic in relief.

The Rangers didn’t play a bad game. If they play this way for seven games, they’ll win the series. What happened was the same problems that plagued them during the regular season; costly breakdowns, timely defensive errors and late goals. The Penguins scored two goals in the last minute or so of periods, furthering the narrative of a fragile Rangers team.

Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were tasked with shouldering the tough defensive matchups in the absence of Ryan McDonagh. And they failed, massively. This pairing was horrendous throughout the night, and was the main reason as to why this game was lost. They made glaring errors on each of the first two goals and were consistently beat throughout the night.

Brady Skjei was playing in his eighth NHL game and his first playoff game. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have combined for 197 playoff games. Brady Skjei was the better defenseman tonight, by a longshot.

Alain Vigneault also showed his continuing ignorance of problems at hand as well as blatant favoritism in his postgame presser. Rather than talking about the disappointing play of his two veteran, high salary defenseman, Vigneault decided to focus on the shorthanded goal, which was a turning point of the game. But he blamed Keith Yandle, and said that he played the 2v1 wrong.

There are some problems here. Yandle was defending a 2v1, not an even strength play. He is not to blame for this goal. Yandle led all the Rangers in possession as well. Dan Girardi was one of two players to finish with a Corsi For of less than 50%, and he and Staal made far more errors tonight. But they walk away with no blame. Mind boggling.

Some positives. Eric Staal was flying, as was the whole third line. They looked great. Rick Nash had a point. Derek Stepan is still red hot. And Brady Skjei is the real deal.

The Rangers won the first 19 minutes of the opening period, but made some costly mistakes as it came to a close. Following an injury scare with Lundqvist and one mistake, the Penguins scored a late goal and took a lead into the locker room.

To many people’s surprise, Marc-Andre Fleury did not come out to start the game, despite all signs pointing to him earlier in the day. Jeff Zatkoff was in net for puck drop, making his first start since February.

The line of Eric Staal, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast were forechecking well early on, setting the tone for the Rangers’ offense. Hayes had a golden chance in front of the net off of a rebound, but Zatkoff came up with a huge save. He would make a number of very solid saves, and did not look rusty at all despite the Rangers throwing everything at him.

The Rangers took two penalties in this period, both by Viktor Stalberg, and neither of them should have been penalties. The first was for hooking, and the second was for a hit to the head. The Rangers did a really good job killing off those penalties, with some great shifts from Brady Skjei. He looked very good in his first NHL playoff period.

On the Rangers power play chance, the Penguins came away with the best scoring opportunity. Carl Hagelin applied pressure on the forecheck, forced some turnovers, and then deflected the puck just over the net. Lundqvist might have gotten a piece of it.

In the last minute of the period, Marc Staal was defending the front of the net when his stick caught Lundqvist up high, with the blade going into the mask and catching Hank near the eye. He was kicking the ice in pain, and there was a stoppage as he was tended to.

But with 18 seconds left, the Penguins broke through. The Penguins sent the puck in, and Dan Girardi stopped skating, anticipating an icing. The puck was sent on net from a bad angle, Hank made the save, Marc Staal missed the loose puck and Patric Hornqvist scored on the rebound. That 1-0 scoreline would be the score heading into the locker room despite the Rangers getting 12 shots on goal.

Marc Staal had an awful period. He missed a wide open net, shooting the puck into Zatkoff. He unintentionally hurt Henrik Lundqvist. And then he made a crucial error on the Hornqvist goal. Not a good first 20 minutes for him, especially if he is being counted on to fill in McDonagh’s shoes.

Antti Raanta was the starting goaltender coming out for the second period, as Henrik Lundqvist was still dealing with his eye injury. No news about the extent of his injury was revealed. Raanta would finish the game.

Nine seconds into the period, Chris Kreider took a penalty, but the Rangers killed it off. On that penalty, Chris Kunitz hit the post with a wrist shot. Raanta was tested throughout, making two huge saves on Eric Fehr on back-to-back opportunities. He was playing very well throughout the period, making six saves, a few of those being very impressive.

He also made an excellent save on Carl Hagelin’s deflection late in the period. The Rangers got a power play of their own, and had some really good chances. They had an extended shift with a lot good looks, but Jeff Zatkoff came up huge, making an excellent glove save on a wrister from Zuccarello. Zatkoff also came up big on Viktor Stalberg on an odd man rush, throwing out his arm and making the stop.

After controlling play for most of this period as well, the Rangers looked very fragile like they have many times this season, surrendering a goal to Sidney Crosby with 1:04 remaining in the period.

The dynamite pairing of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi forgot Crosby was on the ice, and he slipped in behind them, receiving a long stretch pass from Patric Hornqvist. He sent a perfect shot up high, extending the Penguins’ lead to 2-0 heading into the final period.

Right off the bat, the Rangers came so close to scoring a goal. Mats Zuccarello fed Derek Stepan cutting to the net, but his redirection hit the goal post. Eric Staal also had a breakaway chance in this period, but Jeff Zatkoff made a great save.

On that play, the Rangers wound up getting two total power plays. Hagelin was sent to the box for four minutes on a high sticking double minor, and Ben Lovejoy was called for roughing. On that two man advantage, the Rangers scored, cutting the lead to 2-1. Derick Brassard passed it off to Rick Nash at the goal line, and he hit Stepan, who shot it into the open net.

But on the rest of their power play minutes, the Penguins were the ones that took advantage. Dan Boyle had a wide open net, but Lovejoy cleared the puck and sent the Pens on a breakaway. Tom Kuhnhackl converted on a feed from Nick Bonino for a shorthanded goal, recapturing Pittsburgh’s two goal lead.

Patric Hornqvist scored his second goal of the game on the power play. A shot deflected off of Phil Kessel and through Raanta’s legs, and sat in the crease for Hornqvist to tap in. The Penguins led 4-1.

Derek Stepan did everything he could to keep the Rangers in the game, scoring his second goal of the game with 10 minutes to go. Dan Boyle made a great play, carrying the puck through the neutral zone, holding onto the puck and sending the shot on net for Stepan to score.

Hornqvist would complete his hat trick sending the puck into the empty net, and sealing a 5-2 Penguins win in Game 1.

The Rangers will look to bounce back in Game 2 on Saturday at the CONSOL Energy Center at 3 PM.

THREE STARS

1) Derek Stepan – 2 G, 7 S, +8 CF, 18:34 TOT

2) Dan Boyle – 1 A, 4 SA, +10 CF, 19:54 TOT

3) Antti Raanta – 16 SV

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Posted on April 14, 2016, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That’s about the best wrap-up I have ever seen. You missed nothing.

    Like

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