PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers were left picking up the pieces following their 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday after they lost their most important player for the game, and perhaps longer.
The Rangers don't yet know the status of goalie Henrik Lundqvist for Game 2 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Lundqvist left Game 1 after the first period with an apparent right eye injury and coach Alain Vigneault said he would be reevaluated Thursday.
"You just have to learn to deal with it," defenseman Marc Staal said.
Antti Raanta, who made 16 saves on 19 shots in relief, said he saw Lundqvist after the game, but they didn't talk.
Maybe the two days off between games will be enough for Lundqvist to recover in time to return to the series having only missed two periods. But maybe not. And that's the fear the Rangers have now that they are already in a 1-0 hole in the best-of-7 series against the Penguins, who didn't even have their No. 1 or No. 2 goalie in net in Game 1.
Jeff Zatkoff made 35 saves in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff start. No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) was unable to play after missing the last five games of the regular season, and No. 2 goalie Matt Murray (upper-body injury) is day-to-day.
The news on Zatkoff is where the Rangers' emotional rollercoaster ride began Wednesday.
New York went into Game 1 preparing to face Fleury. Their focus was on the Penguins' No. 1 goalie because he practiced Monday and Tuesday and was a full participant in the morning skate Wednesday.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan admitted he didn't want to tip his hand, but knew Zatkoff was going to get the call in goal. Zatkoff said he found out he would likely be the starter Tuesday night.
"We anticipated Marc-Andre was going to play," Rangers forward Eric Staal said. "They had Zatkoff in and he made some good saves early."
Video: Jeff Zatkoff Game 1 Playoffs
Zatkoff made twelve in the first 10 minutes.
"I thought our start was good," Eric Staal said.
New York felt the more they peppered Zatkoff with shots, the better chance they had at cracking the goalie who had a .896 save percentage in his previous five appearances dating to Jan. 18.
Things changed when the incident happened with 49 seconds left in the first period.
The tip of Marc Staal's stick blade went through a hole in Lundqvist's mask and appeared to catch the goalie in his right eye. Lundqvist, the backbone of the Rangers, was face down on the ice, flailing his legs, clearly in pain.
The Rangers are already without injured defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh (right hand).
"Any time he goes out like that with the legs twitching it's not a good sign," Marc Staal said. "Hopefully he's OK."
He wasn't. Lundqvist told Raanta to be ready as he was getting treated with eye drops by trainer Jim Ramsay.
But Lundqvist stayed in the game and gave up a goal to Patric Hornqvist -- who scored three times -- with 17.6 seconds remaining in the period.
Video: Patric Hornqvist Game 1 Playoffs
Sometime in between periods, Raanta found out he was going in, and the Rangers found out they wouldn't have Lundqvist anymore. They were already losing, 1-0.
"Obviously Hank's a big part of this team and it was one of those plays that was kind of freaky," Eric Staal said.
The Rangers did what they could to get over it, but now they were being stymied by the Penguins, who started to keep them to the outside, started to block shots and use their speed to break out.
It worked in unison on Sidney Crosby's breakaway goal that made it 2-0 with 1:04 left in the second period.
The Rangers, though, kept themselves focused going into the third period, into a 5-on-3 goal for center Derek Stepan at 3:10.
Video: NYR@PIT, Gm1: Stepan lights the lamp twice in loss
All of a sudden they were in the game, feeling good. They still had 2:58 remaining on a high-sticking double minor to Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin. They had momentum. They finally got to Zatkoff. They weren't thinking about their own goaltending situation.
It all changed when the big break they were hoping for went against them.
Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle would have had a wide open shot, likely into an empty net with Zatkoff caught on the other side of the crease, only he never got the pass. Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy swatted it away. Seconds later, the Rangers' turned it over, Pittsburgh forwards Nick Bonino and Tom Kuhnhackl broke out of the zone, and were sprung for a shorthanded 2-on-1 by defenseman Kris Letang. Kuhnhackl finished it, giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead just 2:21 after Stepan made it 2-1.
"That's a tough one, no question," Eric Staal said.
Game 1 was a tough one all around for the Rangers. It started out promising with them excited to face a third-string goalie, peppering him with shots, controlling the play, dominating. It ended with them wondering if their own goalie, their best player, one of the most important players in franchise history, will be available going forward in this series.
"Hopefully he'll be alright," Eric Staal said.
If he isn't, the Rangers might be left picking up the pieces of their season rather quickly.