That’s as good as it gets for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, although the Rangers may say otherwise.
Evgeni Malkin’s tip in at 5:58 into the third overtime gave the Penguins a thrilling and controversial 4-3 win over the Rangers in an epic game one of their first round series at Madison Square Garden last night.
Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin made a franchise playoff record 79 saves, the second most in a Stanley Cup playoff game since shots were tracked beginning in 1955-56. With the Rangers putting 68 shots on goal, there was a total of 151 shots in the 105 minutes and 58 seconds of hockey that was played.
The game may never have even gotten to a first overtime without a controversial call.
With a little over three minutes left in the third period, it appeared Filip Chytil had scored the go ahead goal. Kappo Kakko broke in on net and tried to make a play with Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin all over him. The puck came loose where Chytil was able to fire it into an open net.
The Penguins had nothing to lose at this point and challenged the play claiming goaltender interference on Kakko, who appeared to be pushed by Dumoulin into Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith.
“Obviously, you want those calls to go your way,” Ryan Strome said after the game. “Obviously he’s [Kakko] not trying to run in the goalie or anything. I thought it was a call that could go either way.”
Gallant didn’t think the call would go their way. “To me, it was 50-50 call and I sort of thought it was gonna go against us,” he said.
The Rangers came out flying in the first period with a hard hitting, physical brand of hockey. DeSmith kept the Penguins in the game with some outstanding saves until the Rangers got their first power play opportunity.
Adam Fox cashed in the man advantage with his first career playoff goal at 9:19. The reigning Norris Trophy winner took a pass from Mika Zibanejad from just inside the blue line and moved to the middle of the ice where he fired it past DeSmith for a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers thoroughly outplayed the Penguins in the first period but only led 1-0 after one. The Rangers had a 15-10 shots on goal advantage and outhit the Pens, 19-10 in the first period.
In the second, Andrew Copp scored on a one timer to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead but Pittsburgh got some momentum and Jake Guentzel scored the next two goals to tie the game at two apiece.
The Penguins had completely flipped the script in the second period as they were outshooting the Rangers at one point, 17-3 and had a 25-8 overall advantage in the period.
“I thought we had a great 25 minutes and then it seemed like we started doing those little plays again, instead of driving it deep and finishing our checks like we did in the first period,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “We started to get away from that a little bit and I thought it cost us.”
Late in the second period, Patrik Nemeth was in the penalty box for holding but Chris Kreider scored a shorthanded goal to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. Zibanejad fed Kreider who skated across the goalmouth and put a backhander past DeSmith.
Less than a minute after Kreider’s goal, Jacob Trouba was called for boarding, giving the Penguins a 5 on 3 advantage. Pittsburgh took full advantage as Bryan Rust tied the game at three with an easy tip in.
The teams skated through a pair of overtimes without any scoring, but the game took a bizarre turn in the second overtime period.
At just about the midway point of the second overtime, DeSmith took himself out and was replaced by Louis Domingue. “You want to test him, he’s been sitting there for awhile,” Zibanejad said. The Rangers didn’t test him enough as Domingue made 17 saves and got the win.
After the game, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said DeSmith suffered a lower body injury.
The Rangers have their backs against the wall and will face a huge challenge in game two on Thursday night. Mika said they’re ready. “We believe in each other in there, we trust each other in there. We’re here for a reason,” he said.