The New York Rangers figured, at the least, to be emotionally drained and, at the worst, at a physical disadvantage to the Penguins in the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the two teams.
But what figured to transpire did not. It was the Rangers, who played back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday while the Penguins were resting, who had the jump early in the game. And it was the early going that proved to be the difference.
The Rangers scored twice in the first period last night, while out-shooting the Penguins, 13-8, and then again in overtime to win, 3-2, and take the first game of the series at the Consol Energy Center.
''They seemed a little more prepared,’’ said Penguins defenseman Rod Scuderi. ''They had the jump in the first period.’’
''It wasn’t the start we wanted,’’ said forward James Neal.
The Penguins were dominant in the second and third periods, outshooting the Rangers, 27-12, but they could only tie the game. In overtime, a giveaway by Scuderi gave the Rangers a chance and they capitalized as Derick Brassard got the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury for the game-winner 3 minutes and 6 seconds into the period.
All of which means game 2 Sunday night borders on a must-win for the Penguins. They do not want to go to Madison Square Garden trailing the Rangers, 2-0, in games. The downside of a second game at home is the Penguins are 9-10 in playoff games at the Consol Energy Center.
The Rangers still must deal with the bad scheduling hand dealt them by the National Hockey League. It will not be easy to overcome. After playing Tuesday and Wednesday, with the latter being an exhausting game 7 -- which was close all the way -- they not only had to play Friday and again Sunday but also Monday. That means five games in seven days for the Rangers. That’s a heavy load to carry.
The Penguins are not without their handicap going into game 2. To fight back from a 2-0 deficit, to gain the upper hand in the game and then to lose is a bitter pill.
The story inside the story once again was Sidney Crosby. He is now 12 playoff games without a goal. There are two ways to look at that: 1) He’s long overdue to break his slump; 2) There’s something wrong with his game, physically or mentally, and the drought might not end anytime soon.
After dominating play in the decisive game 6 Monday against Columbus with a hat trick, Evengi Malkin was without a goal. He failed to pick up on his last performance and did not get a shot on goal until the third period. He did assist on Neal’s game-tying goal in the second period.
The Penguins were sloppy all night. Scuderi’s turnover, trying to clear the puck, was their 11th of the game, which is way too many for playoff hockey. The Rangers had only four.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 of 36 shots, Fleury 24 of 27. Both teams were 0-for-4 on power play opportunities.