On Friday night, the New York Rangers picked up a 3-2 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, in turn taking a 1-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. The game wasn’t necessarily an easy one for the Rangers, but it set up a blueprint for how they can, and will win this series.
New York came out of the gates with their pants on fire, scoring two goals in the first period, and generally taking the game to the Penguins both mentally and physically. Pittsburgh would go on to match the Rangers’ goal total in the second period, and from there, it was a tight nit affair, until Derick Brassard scored 3:06 into the first overtime period, that is.
What separated the Rangers is that they were the more relentless team in terms of both winning the puck in the offensive zone, and staying glued to it when playing defense against Sidney Crosby and company. As one would expect, the Rangers won the hit battle 26-23, they were 35-32 in the faceoff circle, and they had the same four power play opportunities that Pittsburgh had. In past years it has been shown that the Penguins can be beaten in the playoffs by physical and structured teams, and New York followed this blueprint to a tee in game one.
Ultimately, playing a structured and physical game is a good thing, but the play of Henrik Lundqvist in net really makes it work. King Henrik was magnificent on Friday night, stopping 34 out of 36 shots, with saves ranging from easy to magnificent. A second period onslaught by the Penguins may have overwhelmed many goaltenders, but Lundqvist kept the Rangers in check with his great puck stopping ability and composure in net, and it would be no surprise to see him steal a game or two this series.
Moving forward, there is no doubting that the Rangers will win if the games stay low scoring, and they continue to keep Crosby with his game one statline, which reads: zero points, -3 +/- and 31.6 percent in the faceoff circle. Of course, this won’t be an easy task, but look for Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh to continue anchoring a tight nit, structured and relentless unit on the way to the Conference Finals.