The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have conflicting views on how Game 1 went. What isn’t in question is that the Rangers’ version translated to the scoreboard.
If it does again Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the best road team in hockey will be heading to Pittsburgh with a 2-0 series lead.
In Thursday’s 2-1 win, Derick Brassard struck 28 seconds in and the 2013-14 Stanley Cup finalists won a fourth straight postseason game over Pittsburgh.Since falling behind 3-1 in last season’s second-round matchup, the Rangers are 7-0-1 in the series with a 28-11 scoring advantage behind six goals and four assists from Brassard. In the four straight playoff wins, they’ve allowed one goal each time.
"I think we controlled the momentum of the game pretty much the whole time," Brassard told the team’s official website. "We cycled the puck, we were playing around their net I think for a big part of the game. That’s what we need to do. We played a solid game. It was a really good effort, but now we have to put it behind us."
The lead was extended to 2-0 when Ryan McDonagh scored nearly 15 minutes later on the power play, but the Penguins thought momentum turned from there and they were able to dictate play.
"Take away the first 10 minutes of (Game 1) and I feel we got better every minute of the game and that’s why we came within one goal of tying it up," forward Maxim Lapierre told the team’s official website. "We can beat the Rangers if we play our game and skill set. We have to come out (Saturday), look them in the eye and know we can beat them."
Sidney Crosby was again absent from the scoresheet and has a goal and an assist in the last eight overall meetings. He hasn’t been much better in the teams’ last eight playoff matchups with a goal and two assists.
Teammate Evgeni Malkin has been a bit stronger with three goals and two assists in the last eight overall meetings, but a total of seven points from the two superstars in that span is something Rangers coach Alain Vigneault will take.
"They’re going to get some looks, they’re two of the best players in the NHL," Vigneault said. "I thought for the most part we did a fairly good job – and did a good job of getting the way of a lot of shots."
Henrik Lundqvist deserves at least some of the credit. Since last season’s series turned the Rangers’ way, he has posted a 1.35 goals-against average and .959 save percentage while playing all eight games. This season, he’s bounced back from a vascular injury to win six of his last seven starts as part of a 22-6-0 stretch with a 1.90 GAA.
Counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury has righted himself some in the last two games with two goals against, but he’s still got a 2.96 GAA over a 3-7-2 span. He’s the goalie in the series with his name on the Stanley Cup, but at the moment that’s smudged out by a 11-16 record and 3.17 GAA in his last 28 postseason games.
The Penguins are 1-5-1 with 12 goals this month while the Rangers are 7-1-0 dating to March 31, their latest run in a season of sustained success.
"You start with one and try to feel good about yourself and your performance, and when you win you definitely feel a lot better," Lundqvist said. "But it’s just one."
If they get to two Saturday, they’ll be in especially strong shape heading to Pittsburgh for the next two. The Rangers went 28-11-2 on the road, including 15-2-1 in their last 18.
Each team could soon be welcoming back defensemen with Pittsburgh’s Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) possibly closer to playing than New York’s Kevin Klein (broken arm).