"Since Christmas, they've probably been our most consistent line," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They've got real good chemistry, they read off each other, support each other well ... and they scored two in overtime."
Brassard and Pouliot each put the puck in the net during overtime Friday, but only Brassard's counted as the Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is Sunday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
The only goal of overtime that counted came 3:06 into the extra period. Pouliot intercepted a Rob Scuderi pass below the goal line in the Pittsburgh end and sent a quick pass in front to Brassard, whose shot from the slot beat Fleury under his glove and below the crossbar.
The puck came out of the net as quickly as it went in and play continued. The puck went out to Anton Stralman whose shot was stopped. The rebound went to Brassard at the side of the net, and he sent it to Pouliot, who scored an easier-to-track goal.
After a video replay, the goal was awarded to Brassard.
"I thought it went in and when I saw the ref waving it [off], the puck came back to me," Brassard said. "I found [Pouliot] after. All the credit to Stralman, keeping the puck in on the side there, and [Pouliot] made the play behind the net stealing the puck. I don’t know how he found me, because I was behind the defenseman. It was a great pass."
It capped a strong effort for the Rangers, who were playing their fourth game in six days. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series 48 hours earlier.
"We're fine," Pouliot said. "It's not like we're traveling so far away. We played seven games and the seventh one was a grueling match, but I think most of us have been through it. It's the NHL. You've got to figure out a way, and we did."
After the Rangers carried play in the first period and the Penguins responded in kind in the second, the third period was full of chances for each team, but Lundqvist and Fleury stepped up big.
Fleury had possibly his best period of the postseason, making eight saves. He flashed a quick glove to rob Derek Stepan 64 seconds into the period, but about a minute later made his best save. He used his stick to stop Rick Nash's low shot from the left corner but deflected the puck right to Martin St. Louis in front. St. Louis had the game on his stick a few feet out from the net, but Fleury was able to get a piece of the shot with left arm.
Lundqvist also was solid in the period, stopping all 12 shots he saw. With the Penguins on the power play early in the period, he made a nice glove save on a hard Evgeni Malkin shot, and then came out to stop Stempniak from the right side with 14 seconds left in regulation.
"We played pretty much our whole bench pretty even minutes, forwards and defensemen," Vigneault said. "Guys had good energy, they were focused. We thought we were in pretty good position to be tied after two periods in this building. We played a solid third period and got it done in overtime."
The Rangers came out looking like the fresher team in the first period, holding the Penguins without a shot for the first seven minutes of the game and getting goals from Pouliot and Richards.
Pouliot scored 5:04 into the game when he grabbed the puck after Dan Girardi blocked a shot in the New York end and scored off a quick wrist shot from the high slot. Then a strong forechecking effort by Carl Hagelin and defensive-zone breakdown by the Penguins left Richards alone in the slot to score his third of the playoffs with 2:57 left in the opening period.
"I think for whatever reason we didn't come out hard enough," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who was a minus-3 with three shots on goal.
The Penguins came right back in the second, outshooting the Rangers 15-4 and getting goals from Stempniak and Neal.
Stempniak scored with a backhander that found space between Lundqvist's pads at 7:15, and Neal tied the game when his low shot from the high slot bounced off Lundqvist's stick and landed behind the New York goaltender before trickling across the goal line with Malkin standing in the crease. The goal stood after a video replay showed Malkin did not touch the puck.
The Rangers felt lucky that was all they gave up.
"It's unfortunate our second wasn't as good as our first," Girardi said. "We could have really had a stranglehold on the game. We just stopped skating, stopped making plays and sat back. That's when they take advantage of us not getting pucks deep. They're coming through the neutral zone flying, they’re crisscrossing, making drop passes, and those are hard to defend when we're back on our heels and they're coming with speed.
"That took a lot for us to come back in the third and refocus our game and get back to what we did in the first."
Regardless of the final result, the Rangers know they have more work to do.
"All we've done is win one game," Vigneault said. "We'll rest up [Saturday], we'll have some meetings about things we need to do better, talk about that [Saturday] and get ready for next game."
The Penguins will do the same.
"We come back from 2-0 down after the first period, get the two goals and made a push to win this game," he said. "We don't, but we've got to have a short memory. We've got to come back with Game 2 in our building and put our best foot forward for Game 2."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK