The Penguins and Rangers split their four regular-season games, and if back-and-forth overtime Game 1 Friday night was any indication, there will be plenty of momentum swings in store for the rest of this series, too.
There is one constant through all five games, though: The trio of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot wreaking havoc on the Penguins.
That line has combined for eight goals in five games against the Penguins this season, and was at it again Friday night in the Rangers’ 4-3 overtime win.
Heck, they even pulled off the supposedly impossible feat of scoring twice in a playoff overtime. After Brassard’s backhander bounced off the back post but wasn’t called a goal by the referees on the ice, Pouliot cleaned up a scramble in front of the net to make sure the Rangers would come away winners. After the game, video replay confirmed that Brassard’s shot did in fact go in, and he was credited with the game-winner.
“They’ve got real good chemistry,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “[They] feed off one another, support one another well. [Friday night] they were good with the puck, strong on the forecheck and they scored two in overtime.”
The trio accounted for 52 goals in the regular season, and already has cruised to six through eight playoff games. Brassard, though, credited the Rangers’ depth as a big reason for the team’s overall success and, right now, it’s just his line’s turn to get hot and handle the scoring load.
“I think we really enjoy playing with each other,” he said. “We try to make a difference. I think we’re a pretty hard team to handle. We play four lines, three scoring lines and one checking line. If we’re on our game, I think we’re pretty hard to handle.”
Pouliot opened the scoring earlier in the game with his third goal of the playoffs on a wrister from the slot that snuck under Marc-Andre Fleury’s right arm. It was his second consecutive goal for the Rangers, with his previous one coming as the game-winner in New York’s 2-1 Game 7 win against Philadelphia in the first round.
“[Brassard and Zuccarello] are such good playmakers,” Pouliot said. “They read the game, they see whenever you are. It’s just a matter of chemistry. I don’t know, we’re finding each other. Each guy’s got a different role on that line and we’re all doing our job.”
As for the madcap scramble at the end of the game, Pouliot said he wasn’t sure whether or not Brassard’s initial shot went in, so he was ready to just keep playing until the whistle and clean up for his linemate.
“It was so quick,” he said. “You heard the post, so I wasn’t aware if it went right in the corner, but the way it came out it looked like it kind of did.”
Neither Brassard nor Pouliot knew that the overtime goal (the one that counted) was the eighth goal their line has scored against the Penguins this season. The game Friday night also was the third time that the line had accounted for multiple goals against the Penguins.
Then again, neither really cared much, only that the Rangers had seized momentum with a road win in Game 1.
“We’re just playing,” Brassard said. “I guess it’s a good thing. We’re just playing, we’re having fun. We want to bring some offense to the team and I think we’ve been doing a really good job this season.”
Pouliot at least offered up a theory as to why the trio seems to play its best when facing the Penguins.
“[Pittsburgh] is probably one of the best teams in the East, so you step up,” he said. “You elevate your game. You want to beat the best.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.