Rangers make Penguins pay for sloppy start

NEW YORK -- For as business-like as the New York Rangers demeanor has become -- a necessity with the target that accompanies winning the Presidents' Trophy -- the unbridled excitement and anticipation of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not lost on this team.

So in reflecting on a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round series, the Rangers stressed that, though there is plenty of work to be done, there is at least some sense of accomplishment in delivering such a fine start to the series in the wake of all the nerves that factor in at this time of year

Veteran forward Martin St. Louis, whose name is already engraved on the Stanley Cup, admitted he still felt the jitters before puck drop.

"I'm 39 years old," St. Louis said, "but I still get nervous before that first playoff game."

Defenseman Keith Yandle, who has eight years of NHL experience, was still surprised by how raucous the crowd was at Madison Square Garden, in his first taste of playoff action on Broadway.

"That was probably even more electric than I thought it would be," he said.

And Derick Brassard was still giddy hours after scoring his first playoff goal of the 2015 postseason -- one that came only 28 seconds into play, and sent the Garden crowd into a frenzy.

"I was shaking," he said, when asked how it felt after tallying that critical marker.

Brassard's goal, which came just a second shy from tying a franchise record for fastest goal to start a playoff game, ignited the crowd and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a juicy rebound on Rick Nash's first shot and, absent a defenseman in his own end to help impede the rush, Fleury surrendered a goal for the sort of start to the series the Penguins were desperately trying to avoid.

"I think it's a privilege to start the game. I thought the five guys on the ice, we did a good job to get our team going," Brassard said. "I give a lot of credit to Rick [Nash]. He didn't shoot to score there. He shot for a rebound. He did it on purpose. I was just right there for the rebound."

Brassard's goal was only the beginning of a shaky start for the Penguins, who spent a good chunk of time short-handed after awarding the Rangers four power-play opportunities in an undisciplined first period. The Blueshirts made them pay only once, on Ryan McDonagh's deep slapper with Blake Comeau in the box for roughing, but it was the difference in the game.

Plus, with the Penguins forced to continually deploy their penalty-killing unit, superstar Sidney Crosby saw limited ice time, playing only 3:42 in the opening frame.

"The momentum, the crowd, the surge and those penalties -- they [the Rangers] earned it," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "It took a lot of momentum away from our team. Key players couldn't get on the ice, so certainly that was a key factor in the start of the game."

Said Crosby: "It's not ideal and we've got to find a way to stay out of the box."

Crosby was held off the score sheet and managed only one shot on goal. Evgeni Malkin had a few more opportunities, particularly as the Penguins pushed back in the second and third periods, but he also was contained.

That was a key for the Rangers heading into the series and will need to remain a point of emphasis moving forward as the Penguins aim to even up the series Saturday.

The Rangers are already without defenseman Kevin Klein, who sat out Thursday's game because of an upper-body injury. Ironman top-pair blueliner Dan Girardi left the game in the third period after taking a puck to the face. The status for each player for Game 2 is unknown.

"It starts with making them come 200 feet," McDonagh, the Rangers' captain, said. "We see a couple times there we turn it over to Malkin, he's on the rush there, being creative, playing the way he wants to play. They're good players, they're going to make good reads. It's just a matter of us being confident and going out there and doing it the right way the next time."

If the second and third periods were any indication, these Penguins are not just going to roll over and make things easy for the Rangers. Rather, Pittsburgh delivered a marked surge in the second period after trailing by a pair of goals at the first intermission.

A strong shift by the team's fourth line of Nick Spaling, Maxim Lapierre and Comeau resulted in the Pens cutting the lead in half. With Lapierre tangling with Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle in front, creating havoc for Henrik Lundqvist, Comeau tallied his first career playoff goal at 6:15 of the second period.

"It was better in the second and third period," said Fleury, who stopped 36 of 38 shots. "We were more disciplined. We had the puck a little more, we scored a goal, and we had some chances."

One game means virtually nothing, the Rangers openly acknowledge that. After all, they erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins last spring in the second round. They know how dangerous it can be to rest on a lead.

As for the Penguins? They are already looking to put this loss behind them and adopt a new attitude heading into Game 2.

"The start and being tentative, it's gotta be gone," Crosby said. "We were definitely guilty of that."