Pittsburgh Penguins Flip The Script For Openers Against Rangers in New York

There wasn’t much to be excited about as the playoffs commenced. But an inspired effort in Game 1 established the Penguins have a different narrative in mind against the Rangers.


It was just one game, but what we saw in Game 1 has a chance to resonate.

And if it does, Penguins-Rangers has a chance to become a whole new ballgame.

Before the puck dropped on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Pens’ prospects in Round One of the Stanley Cup playoffs looked much more ominous than optimistic.

They hadn’t played well against the Rangers in the regular season.

They’d stumbled repeatedly in the regular season’s second half, particularly down the stretch.

And they’d lost four consecutive playoff series for just the second time in franchise history.

But just one game into this one the narrative has been changed.

So, too, perhaps, should expectations regarding what the Pens may yet be capable of against the Rangers.

It’s still anybody’s series heading into Game 2 tonight.

But at least now there’s hard evidence that the path may be navigable after all.

It included:

  • The poise and resilience the Penguins displayed after the Rangers threatened to run them out of the world’s most famous arena while building  2-0 lead in the early stages of Game 1, and again after the Pens hemorrhaged a short-handed goal that broke the 2-2 tie they’d worked so hard to realize.
  • The capability to at long last register shot attempts, shots on net and yes, goals against the Rangers and Igor Shesterkin with regularity after struggling mightily to manage all three in the regular season.
  • The ability to press the attack while coming back and yet surrender scoring chances against grudgingly.
  • The stars rising to the occasion as required. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Bryan Rust led the charge, something that hadn’t happened often enough while the Penguins were bowing out in the first round of each of the last three postseasons.
  • The discipline to commit just one penalty in a game that dragged on for 105:58, which is the absolute best defense against the Rangers’ lethal power play.
  • An opportunistic contribution by the Pens’ previously struggling power play. Yes, it took a two-man advantage to make that happen. But against Shesterkin and the Rangers, you have to take what you can get when it’s available.

And, last but not least …

  • The determination to take a physical pounding and just keep coming.

So complete was the Penguins’ team effort in Game 1 that even beleaguered winger Kasperi Kapanen played well.

All of the above’s effect on the Rangers included the Blueshirts obsessing over Crosby whenever he had the puck. The Rangers over-pursued and over-defended Crosby at the expense of structure, which created two gorgeous opportunities that Guentzel finished.

So unnerved were the Rangers by No. 87’s mere presence it wouldn’t be surprising to learn they’d had a couple of defensemen follow Crosby into the bathroom between periods.

When you get all of that clicking in concert, it doesn’t matter nearly as much who’s in your net.

That’s how you find a way to win when the backup goalie to the backup goalie has to jump into the crease midway through the second overtime.

Ron Hextall, the demon between the pipes for the Flyers long before he began generally managing the Penguins, may be next.

If the Pens can execute the plan with the consistency, precision and urgency they displayed in Game 1, they’d have a chance even if it came to that.

As it is, they’ve sent a message to the Rangers.

Perhaps they’ve even proven a point to themselves.

Pre-series narratives are fine until somebody wins in triple overtime.

Now that the Penguins have, the preordained suddenly looks like a horserace.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section