One game down, fifteen more to go.
The New York Rangers started out the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a bang, and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers certainly didn't waste the early energy being generated by the Garden Faithful, and notched two goals within the first 15 minutes of the game. Henrik Lundqvist was magical between the pipes once again, and turned aside several key chances late in the game by the Penguins. Lundqvist didn't have a whole lot of work in the first with the Penguins only registering five total shots, but he made the saves he needed to make.
The Rangers were able to jump on the Penguins very early in this game, and just 28 seconds after the puck dropped, Derick Brassard chipped one past Marc-Andre Fleury. Rick Nash got the play started by lugging the puck into the zone, and ripped a hard, low shot on Fleury which he kicked out to the high slot. Neither of the Penguins defensemen decided to drift towards the puck, and essentially let Brassard walk down the middle uncontested. With plenty of time to pick his spot, Brassard ripped one under the bar, and Madison Square Garden erupted.
The first period was a period to forget for the Penguins, as they let the Rangers get in their heads early on, which led to several boneheaded penalties. After coming up empty on the first two opportunities, the Rangers finally made the Penguins pay the third time around on Blake Comeau's roughing penalty. Mats Zuccarello, and Keith Yandle's puck movement up top by the blue line set this entire goal up, and Ryan McDonagh finished it off with a bomb of a shot.
Derick Brassard's work in front also disrupted Fleury enough for him to whiff on the incoming shot, and the Rangers jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead. The Rangers were able to take that two goal lead into the intermission, and got exactly the start they hoped for during the first period. As expected though, the Penguins came out much stronger in the second period, and eventually found a way to chip one by Lundqvist.
Blake Comeau was able to locate the loose puck in front coming from Ben Lovejoy's point shot, and flipped one by Lundqvist who was sprawled out in the crease. Dan Boyle wasn't able to make a play on Comeau with Max Lapierre tying him up in front, and the Penguins were able to make this one a game again. From that point on, the Rangers certainly bent during certain stretches of the game, but they never broke.
They did an excellent job limiting the chances coming from Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin, which gave them a chance to close out this game in the third period. There was some cause for concern nearing the end of this game, as Dan Girardi took a puck to the side of the jaw, and left the game with some discomfort. Girardi never returned to the game, but Alain Vigneault said after the game that Girardi was getting some dental work done, and didn't seem overly concerned.
Late in the third period, the trio of Carl Hagelin, Dominic Moore, and Jesper Fast pinned the Pens in their own zone for at least a minute, and killed some clock. One final faceoff in the Rangers zone was all that eventually remained, and the Rangers cleared it to the corner to lock up the Game 1 victory.
Obviously the Rangers quick start played a large role in this game, which is a very welcoming sight heading into Game 2. If the Rangers can put up a similar effort on Saturday while also tightening up some of the play in their own zone, they will be just fine heading forward in this series.