Rangers vs. Penguins: Biggest Takeaways from Game 1
Three periods wasn't enough to contain the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the second round. It required overtime to settle this one, and Benoit Pouliot is your hero for the night.
The contest started off well enough for the Blueshirts. They secured a 2-0 lead in the first period and really took the game to Pittsburgh. They established a tenacious forecheck and locked down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with aplomb.
New York took its foot off the gas, though, and the Penguins found a way to score two goals in the second period to knot things up. The squads sloshed through a third period that featured a few solid chances, but there was nothing breathtaking.
The pace of the contest felt slow and choppy, but the series won't stay that way moving forward. There's just too much talent on both sides for Game 2 to feature similarly disorganized play.
Pittsburgh Penguins Need Better Starts
Frustration was palpable for the Penguins following the first period. It took them more than seven minutes to register their first shot on Henrik Lundqvist, and they finished the opening frame in a 0-2 hole against a Rangers team that was all over the place through the first 20 minutes.
The Penguins could afford to go down 0-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets because that team didn't necessarily have the defensive horses to turtle for two periods. The Rangers are much more capable in the defensive zone, and Lundqvist isn't a goalie you want to hand that kind of lead to.
It's a trend that the Penguins must buck if they want to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Moreover, it wasn't like Pittsburgh was pushing and simply didn't get rewarded. They were spectators through the first period and had zero urgency to get to the puck first, let alone win a 50-50 battle along the boards. All the X's and O's in the world don't matter when the effort isn't there, and the Penguins need to be stronger out of the gate. Much stronger.
They were able to bounce back in Game 1 with a strong second period, but they can't win four games that way.
New York Rangers Must Improve on the Power Play
The Rangers scored three power-play goals in their first two games of the first round. Since then, they haven't been able to come up with much while skating with the extra man. They were given a bevy of chances to bury the Penguins in the first period by scoring a third goal, but they failed to do so.
New York went 0-of-4 on the power play in Game 1 and didn't look threatening often enough. Pittsburgh's PP unit looked much more fine-tuned, and that could spell danger for the Blueshirts. If this boils down to a special teams battle, the Rangers need to improve rapidly.
While the Penguins look dynamic with the extra man, New York looks stale. There's not a lot of movement or players switching positions and not enough traffic. They're now goalless through 25 straight chances and counting.
Pittsburgh Penguins Finding Success with the Second Wave
The Rangers did an outstanding job of defending Pittsburgh's attack in the first period. They allowed only eight shots on goal and seemed to be dictating the pace in all three zones. Dan Bylsma made a noteworthy adjustment during the first intermission, though, and it led to two unanswered Pittsburgh goals in the second period.
Instead of just getting traffic in front of Lundqvist and shooting, the Penguins started slowing the attack down at the top of the slot, waiting for the second wave of skaters to arrive. The new-look offense led directly to Pittsburgh's two goals in the second frame and allowed them to get back into the contest.
New York struggled to adapt quickly enough and had to pay a hefty price for failing to control their gaps on Pittsburgh's shooters. The "turtle" mentality saw them collapse tightly around Lundqvist—a tendency that Bylsma was ready for as he shifted to this more patient approach.
It didn't pay off for the Penguins in overtime, but they could be onto something heading into Game 2.
New York's Second Line Was Better Than Pittsburgh's
In a game that featured some of the NHL's premier scoring threats, Pouliot was the difference-maker. He scored New York's first goal in the opening period and sealed the deal for the Blueshirts with an overtime game-winner.
The Penguins received a goal from James Neal in the second frame, but on the whole, New York's second unit outplayed its counterpart. The Rangers didn't dominate by taking a ton of shots. Instead, Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello were able to generate quality chances that got behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
Pittsburgh's top six wasn't particularly good in general in Game 1. Crosby has now gone 42 consecutive periods without a goal, and that's not going to get it done against the Rangers.
Marc-Andre Fleury Still Isn't Good Enough
It'd be inaccurate to blame Fleury for all three goals that the Rangers scored. Pouliot's opening tally was a soft goal, though, and "Flower" totally lost sight of the puck and self-control on the Rangers' game-winner.
He saw 27 shots and stopped 24 of them—good for a .889 save percentage on the evening. The Penguins can't continue to plow forward with Fleury playing like this. He's been inconsistent, coming up with big saves at times and then looking lost at others.
Lundqvist wasn't perfect, but he made the timely stops. Timely is the key word here. The Penguins haven't been able to count on Fleury to make those kinds of stops for two years running now, and that didn't change in Game 1.
The storyline is worn out by now but it's true: The Penguins will only go as far as Fleury takes them, especially with Crosby not scoring.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate through the end of Game 1.