(This was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I forgot to publish it because I’m a moron)
I’ve seen just about every negative take under the sun from Rangers fans following the 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Penguins in game 1, and believe me, I feel your pain, I’m angry, and I feel robbed. The thing that it seems like none of them realize is that, in the NHL playoffs, we play a best of seven series. The Rangers will be back at it tomorrow, and then it’s off to Pittsburgh. There is definitely a level of criticism that the Rangers deserve following that defeat, but every team has at least one tough night in the playoffs, and we got this one out of the way early. It’s not like the Rangers didn’t do anything well at all either.
That rang especially true in the first period. The Rangers came out with the pedal to the floor, outshooting Pittsburgh 15-10, keeping them off the board, and potting a power play goal courtesy of Adam Fox. That was followed up with the first Patrik Nemeth penalty of the game, and a solid kill from the Rangers. Seven minutes later, Ryan Lindgren through a massive hit on Penguins deadline acquisition Rickard Rakell that, at a glance, appeared to have hit him in the head. The initial call on the ice was to assess Lindgren a major penalty, but after review revealed the principal point of contact was indeed the chest and not the head, the penalty was reduced to a minor for roughing. If you ask me, interference would’ve made more sense, the hit coming shortly after Rakell distributed the puck, but the extent of my refereeing experience only goes as far as roller hockey men’s leagues, so I digress. That penalty was killed, but momentum had begun shifting towards Pittsburgh’s side of the ice, and the game sat at a score of 1-0 in favor of New York entering the first intermission.
The second period wasn’t as dominant as the first was for the Rangers, but they were rewarded early on with a 2-0 lead after Andrew Copp scored a beauty off of a pass from Jacob Trouba. Momentum continued to build for the Penguins, however, and answered roughly a minute and a half later. Guentzel from Crosby and Rust for the Nebraska native’s first of the game. This snowballed into more momentum and the Rangers continued to falter defensively. Crosby entered the zone, cut across center ice unchecked, both Rangers defenders turned their focus to him, and Guentzel was able to waltz in behind them wide open, receive the Crosby pass cleanly, and put it up high on Shesterkin for his second straight goal to tie the game at two a piece. The Rangers simply did not have an answer for the line of Crosby Guentzel and Rust in the second. It seemed like this period would continue to come up all Penguins when Nemeth took his second penalty of the game, and the Penguins PP unit came on looking for their first goal of the game. Just 35 seconds into the power play, a goal was scored, but it was scored by Rangers regular season leading goal scorer Chris Kreider, who notched his first career shorthanded goal earlier this season, and his first career playoff SH goal in that moment. The freshly restored rangers lead would be face a tough test almost immediately after, however, as Jacob Trouba had to take a seat next to Nemeth in the box for a boarding call, and the Pens went to work on the two man advantage. Malkin found Bryan Rust on the back doorstep, and he easily tapped it in to once again tie the contest, and give Pittsburgh their first power play marker of the playoffs.
All tied up at three a piece entering the third, it seemed like all the Rangers would have to do is reset, treat it like a twenty minute hockey game, and come out the way they did in the first period. Chances came and went for both sides, until a massive opportunity arose for Kaapo Kakko, as he drove the net on a partial breakaway. Penguin Brian Dumoulin followed him in close, and as the space between Kakko and Desmith grew smaller and smaller, Dumoulin pushed harder. Kakko cut across the middle, pivoting on his left foot and keeping it out of the crease, as he made slight contact with Desmith, and then Dumoulin hit his own goaltender at full bore, pushing him at least 5 feet out of his crease. The puck found its way back to Filip Chytil in the slot, who put it in the wide open net. Eruption at the Garden, immediately followed by controversy. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan challenged the play, it was analyzed by the situation room in Toronto, and referee Chris Lee told the Garden crowd that, after video review, there was goaltender interference found on the play, and the goal would be disallowed with just about 4 minutes to play in regulation. With the optics of the play and the fact that it came at the most critical possible moment of the game, you knew it would be challenged. What was unclear was just how exactly the Rangers could be blamed for interfering with Desmith. What very well could have been the GWG was not credited to Chytil and the Rangers, and I bet you could guess what the New York crowd was chanting. Nevertheless, no goals were officially counted in the third period, the game remained tied at three, and the first overtime of the 2022 playoffs was set to commence.
Boy, did it ever. I’ll keep this brief because I would practically be writing up two games for the price of one blog if I didn’t. Both teams had tons of chances in the first OT frame, a Zibanejad partial breakaway being the standout for me. The Rangers looked like the better team in OT1, but couldn’t finish the job. In the second overtime, more chances were exchanged, no penalties called, and Desmith faced significant pressure. Past the halfway point of the frame, a whistle was blown, the play down in the Rangers end, and Desmith suddenly skated over to the tunnel and left the game, citing cramps as the culprit. Take that as you will, but this game was closing in on the 100 minute mark, and suddenly the Penguins had a fresh goalie between the pipes. You may say this should’ve made it an easy win for the Rangers, who were now shooting on a third string goalie, but I say they got a brand new goalie who has significant experience at the NHL level in the middle of double overtime, giving them the edge in goal. Louis Domingue was tested early but stood tall, immediately stoping chances off of the first two Rangers offensive face off wins. His fresh legs carried him through to the end of the second overtime, the sixth period of the night began, and just over four minutes later Evgeni Malkin deflected a point shot from Kasperi Kapanen and the rest is history. Shesterkin finished the night with 79 saves, the second most in a game in NHL history.
The bottom line is, it’s not time to overreact, It’s time for the boys to stick to what got them here, what got them the two goal lead up until the Guentzel line took over the game, and continue to take things one game at a time. If you shaved your playoff beard already, the problem is with you, not the team. Yes, I’m talking to you. (You know who you are.)