The New York Rangers opened up the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the wrong foot, and dropped Game 1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a final score of 5-2. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Jeff Zatkoff was the center of attention tonight after getting the nod while everyone was expecting Marc-Andre Fleury to return from injury. Zatkoff was absolutely lights out throughout the first period, and kept the Penguins afloat.
After out-shooting the Penguins 12-3 during the opening minutes, the Rangers had absolutely nothing to show for their strong start. That allowed the Penguins enough to find their game, and come back with an even stronger push during the second half of the first period. With the pressure starting to pick up in front of Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal attempted to clear the crease late in the period, and what happened next was downright scary.
Staal's stick wound up poking Lundqvist in the eye through the protective wires on his helmet, and Lundqvist dropped to the ice in an extreme amount of pain. After several minutes, Lundqvist received some medical treatment from Jim Ramsay, and skated back into the crease to finish out the period. About a minute later, the Penguins were able to take advantage and they took a 1-0 lead off of a fortunate bounce in front.
Connor Sheary's centering pass wound up deflecting off of Lundqvist's shoulder, and landed right on the tape of Patric Hornqvist for the tap in. The Rangers found themselves down a by a goal heading into the locker room, and they needed a quick response early in the second period. To everyone's surprise, Antti Raanta lead the Rangers out of the tunnel for the second period, with Lundqvist remaining in the locker room after the intermission
Given the sensitive nature of Lundqvist's injury, it was a bit shocking to see him not return, but I also don't blame the Rangers for being a bit cautious. After both teams traded power play opportunities midway through the period, the Penguins were able to double up their lead a short time later. Dan Girardi's point shot wound up catching Patric Hornqvist right in the stomach, and that allowed Sidney Crosby to break up ice undetected.
Hornqvist sent the puck between both Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, and sprung Crosby in on a breakaway nearing the end of the second period. Crosby had plenty of time to pick his spot, and absolutely sniped one over the shoulder of Antti Raanta to make it a 2-0 game. As disappointing as it was to head into the intermission trailing 2-0, the Rangers had a massive opportunity to crawl right back into the game early in the third.
Both Carl Hagelin and Ian Cole were called for penalties at the same time, which sent the Rangers on a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. About a minute into the man-advantage, Derek Stepan was able to catch a nifty little pass from Rick Nash, and shoveled a shot past Zatkoff to pull the Rangers back within one. Unfortunately, a short time after Stepan's goal, the Penguins answered right back with a pair of goals coming from Tom Kuhnackl and Patric Hornqvist to extend the Penguins lead to 4-1.
Derek Stepan was able to score a little past the halfway mark of the third period, but at that point, the Rangers just couldn't find a way to generate much else. Patric Hornqvist iced the game with under three minutes to play, and capped off his first career playoff hat trick to secure a 1-0 series lead for his team. The Rangers will have two days to recoup and adjust, before returning for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh.