PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers survived a second-period letdown and a major scare from the Pittsburgh Penguins after Derick Brassard's game winner in OT gave the Blueshirts a 3-2 win and 1-0 series lead.
The Penguins learned in Round 1 the danger of a two-goal lead, and the Rangers got their lesson in the second period when they surrendered a pair of goals to find themselves tied 2-2 heading into the third. The Penguins blew two separate two-goal leads against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Games 2 and 4 and erased two-goal deficits of their own in Games 1 and 3 during the wildly entertaining six-game set. After a poor first period, the Penguins returned after the intermission a different team, tilting the ice and outshooting the Rangers 15-4 during the middle frame. As focused as they appeared in the first period, the Rangers looked hapless in the second period as they allowed the Pens to dictate the tempo and get the crowd back into the game.
But the Rangers recovered in the third and carried strong play into the overtime period, where a wild sequence ended the game 3:06 into play when Brassard notched his first goal of the playoffa to help the Rangers jump out to an early series lead.
Controversial call: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was absolutely livid after the Penguins’ tying goal at 13:28 of the second and argued heatedly with the nearest official after James Neal was credited with the equalizer. Lundqvist got a piece of Neal’s shot, but the puck fluttered up an over him with Evgeni Malkin wreaking havoc in front. Whether Lundqvist felt he was interfered with or that Malkin high-sticked the puck in was not immediately clear, but the original call on the ice was upheld. All in all, it was not a great night for the officiating crew (how many times have we said that this season?), as they made an incorrect hand pass call earlier in the game and missed a few blatant penalties as well.
Early lead: It did not take long for the Penguins fans at CONSOL Energy to get on the home team, after an unpleasant first period for Pittsburgh. The Penguins surrendered the game’s first goal on what was a rather benign shot from Benoit Pouliot just 5:04 into play. That didn’t seem to help Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence, as the embattled Penguins netminder looked disjointed and rattled throughout the first frame. He’d give up another before period’s end, when veteran center Brad Richards was left all alone in front, though he didn’t get much help, either. For all the questions heading into Friday’s action about the Rangers' energy levels after coming off three games in four nights, they looked by far the more energetic, sharper squad.
Power outage: And as much as Alain Vigneault attempted before the game to claim it was a new series for the team’s maligned power play, the unit struggled again in Pittsburgh. The Rangers failed to cash in on four power-play opportunities Friday night, extending their slump to 0-for-25 with the man-advantage. They are an abysmal 3-for-33 during the postseason.
Depleted defense: The Penguins were again without defenseman Brooks Orpik, who was scratched with an undisclosed injury. Orpik, who had one goal and one assist in the first four games of the playoffs, has missed the past three games for the Penguins. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has declined to discuss Orpik’s or his timetable for return.