How it happened: In the hours before Game 1, this was expected to be a goaltending battle between highly accomplished veteran goalies Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. By the time the Penguins skated off with a Game 1 victory, the goaltenders of record were Jeff Zatkoff, who started in place of the injured Fleury and earned a win in his first NHL playoff start, and Antti Raanta, who came on in relief of Lundqvist, who was struck in the eye area of his mask by teammate Marc Staal late in the first period. Lundqvist stayed in the game and allowed the first goal with 17.6 seconds left in the first period, but he was unable to return to action and was replaced at the start of the second period by Raanta, who allowed three goals on 19 shots. While the Rangers tested Zatkoff early in the first period, at one point holding a 12-3 edge in shots as the Penguins seemed out of sync defensively, Zatkoff held firm. The Rangers also squandered a golden opportunity to get back in the game early in the third period, when Carl Hagelin was assessed a four-minute double minor and Ian Cole a two-minute minor at the same time. The Rangers made it 2-1 with a 5-on-3 goal, but then allowed a shorthanded goal by Tom Khunhackl during the remainder of Hagelin’s penalty that made the score 3-1. The Rangers, who had several odd-man rushes, along with the power-play opportunities, could not score the key goal at the key moment.
Player of the game: While Hornqvist was an offensive force for Pittsburgh with three goals and an assist, there’s no question this honor belongs to Zatkoff, the 28-year-old journeyman goalie from Detroit. A strange confluence of events -- Fleury’s inability to shake off the lingering effects of his second concussion, even though he practiced twice this week and took the morning skate, plus the ongoing injury to backup Matt Murray, who played in place of Fleury down the stretch -- thrust Zatkoff into the spotlight, and he responded in storybook fashion.
He did not allow what would have been an important first goal to the Rangers, who were the better team through the first half of the first period. Then, in the second period, Zatkoff made two key stops on a Ranger power play to keep the score 1-0 Penguins. Early in the third period, Zatkoff delivered a fine blocker save on Eric Staal. Zatkoff finished with 35 stops on 37 shots.
Stat of the game: 17.6 -- That’s how much time was left on the clock in the first period when Hornqvist gobbled up a loose puck in the slot and slid it past Lundqvist to give the Penguins a lead they would never relinquish. Should Lundqvist have gone back in goal after injuring his eye 30.6 seconds earlier? It’s a moot point, but the goal illustrated one of the concerns for the Rangers going into this series: a sometimes shaky defense. Both Dan Girardi and Staal shared the blame on what turned out to be a huge goal; Girardi misplayed the dump-in and Staal could not control the puck as it came in front of the Ranger goal.
What it means: No question this was an opportunity squandered by the Rangers. They did not get to Zatkoff when they needed, and they did not take advantage of the man-advantage situation early in the third, when they could have evened up the game and put more pressure on the Pens at home. Now the Rangers must confront the possibility of continuing without Lundqvist as they face an early crucial test in Game 2. The fact there are two off days between Game 1 and Game 2 will allow both Fleury and Lundqvist to heal; the extra off day will also benefit Ranger captain Ryan McDonagh, who did not play in Game 1, as he recovers from a hand injury. But the pressure is squarely on the Rangers to be better Saturday as they hope to avoid going home down two games.
Next game: The teams get a two-day break before Game 2, which is set for Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.