The best line on hockey’s busiest team hardly looked gassed.
The way Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot were furiously pouring in overtime goals, the New York Rangers didn’t exactly look like a group in need of a day off.
Brassard beat Marc-Andre Fleury 3:06 into overtime – with Pouliot bizarrely doing the same seven seconds later – and the Rangers stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night.
The winner officially went to Brassard, whose wrist shot from in front beat Fleury cleanly but caromed back onto the ice. Referee Steve Kozari waved it off, however, and play continued before Pouliot slammed the puck into a wide open net moments later for good measure.
“I found out way later (Brassard) got the goal,” Pouliot said. “Good for him. We’ve been playing well against Philly and now tonight. We deserved that.”
Pouliot and Brad Richards gave the Rangers an early 2-0 lead. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots and stuffed a late Pittsburgh breakaway in the final seconds of regulation. The line of Pouliot, Brassard and Mats Zuccarello combined for 14 points in New York’s four regular-season meetings with the Penguins.
They were the best trio on the ice on a team barely 48 hours removed from a wearying seven-game victory over Philadelphia in the opening round.
“Since Christmas they’ve probably been our most consistent line,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “They’ve got real good chemistry. They read off one another and support one another well and ... they scored two in overtime.”
Lee Stempniak and James Neal scored for the Penguins. Fleury made 24 saves but was helpless on the winner.
“It was just a big pile of guys and I was trying to find the puck out of it,” Fleury said.
Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby was held without a goal for the 12th straight playoff game as the Rangers took away much of the open ice where Crosby likes to operate.
“It could’ve went either way,” Crosby said. “I don’t think we played a full 60 (minutes).”
The Rangers were supposed to be exhausted after outlasting the Flyers in the opening round, not advancing until a 2-1 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Instead, it was the Penguins who appeared to need a nap.
Pouliot gave New York the lead 5:04 into first period, capitalizing on a Pittsburgh turnover then splitting Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen before firing a wrist shot that caromed off Fleury’s right arm and into the net.
Richards doubled the lead late in the period with his third and easiest goal of the postseason. Carl Hagelin beat Maatta to a puck in the corner and fed it to Richards, who had enough time in front to go from his backhand to his forehand and flip the puck by an overmatched Fleury.
Whatever sluggishness the Penguins felt after a three-day layoff vanished in the second.
Stempniak cut the lead in half by taking a nice drop pass from Beau Bennett then streaking down the middle and beating Lundqvist with a backhand 7:15 into the period.
Neal tied it just over 6 minutes later thanks to a rare mistake by Lundqvist, who deflected Neal’s into the air then had it glance off his back and into the net. Lundqvist pleaded with officials that Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin had interfered with him while trying to make the save.
, but replays showed Malkin’s high-stick swat didn’t come close to touching the puck.
New York gathered itself before the third and the teams traded chances over the final 20 minutes of regulation with Lundqvist stopping a slap shot from Stempniak in the final 15 seconds to send it to overtime.
Whatever adrenaline the Rangers had left fueled them during the brief extra period. New York dominated play before the madcap finish to beat the Penguins in Game 1 of a postseason series for the first time.
The Penguins came in 4-0 in the playoff series against New York. Now the Rangers find themselves in control with a welcome day off before Sunday’s rematch.
“Yeah we played seven games and the seventh one was a grueling match but I think most of us have been through it,” Pouliot said. “It’s the NHL and you have to find a way and we did.”
NOTES: New York went 0 for 4 on the power play and is 0 for its last 25 with the man advantage. ... The Rangers held out F Chris Kreider once again. Kreider wore a non-contact jersey during Friday morning’s skate and his return from a hand injury remains uncertain. ... Penguins D Brooks Orpik missed his third straight game with an undisclosed injury.
The best line on hockey’s busiest team hardly looked gassed.
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