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Five keys for Rangers vs. Penguins Game 1

Pittsburgh goalies, Staal brothers will be in the spotlight

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins begin their Eastern Conference First Round Series at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, MSG). Here are five keys for Game 1:

1. Fleury or Zatkoff: Penguins coach Mike Sullivan likely knows who Pittsburgh's starting goalie will be in Game 1, but he's not saying anything publicly other than "game-time decision." Defenseman Ben Lovejoy said the players also were instructed not to talk about the goaltending situation.

So we're left to speculate, and the educated guess here is that it will be Marc-Andre Fleury playing his first game since March 31, with Jeff Zatkoff as his backup.

Video: PIT@NYR: Fleury denies E. Staal's point-blank chance

Fleury, who missed the last five games of the regular season because of a concussion, was in the net typically reserved for the starter during the morning skate Wednesday. He also was a full participant in practice Monday and Tuesday.

The Rangers are expecting to face Fleury, but regardless of who is in net they need to see how much rust he has on him. Fleury hasn't played this month. Zatkoff made 22 saves in relief of Matthew Murray on Saturday, but that was his first game since Feb. 20.

2. 87's offense: Penguins center Sidney Crosby arguably was the MVP in the NHL from shortly before Christmas through the end of the regular season. He had 30 goals and 66 points in his last 50 games, dating to Dec. 16.

Crosby, though, has struggled to score against the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two years with three goals and seven points in 12 games. He scored two of the goals in Game 2 of the first-round series last season, the only game the Penguins won.

If he goes cold, there's a good chance the Penguins' offense will follow.

Video: Hear what Sidney Crosby had to say before Game 1

The good news is Crosby scored three goals in four games against the Rangers during the regular season, including one in each of the past two games. The other bit of good news is the Rangers won't have defenseman Ryan McDonagh (right hand) to start the series, which means Crosby won't have to worry about facing him on basically every shift.

3. Staal tale: Brothers Marc Staal and Eric Staal have to be significant contributors if the Rangers want to take a lead in the series.

Marc, a defenseman, likely will be in the shut-down role against Crosby as much as he can be.

Eric is the left wing on the Rangers' vitally important third line with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. That line arguably was the Rangers' best at generating and keeping possession in the offensive zone in the latter stages of the regular season.

Keeping the Penguins hemmed in their zone will negate their speed advantage and make Crosby less effective. The Staal brothers will play a huge role in the Rangers' ability to do that. It also would help if Eric scored too. He had six points in 20 regular-season games with the Rangers.

Video: Eric Staal On Game 1 Against Pittsburgh

4. Pressure the Penguins' defensemen: Vigneault said he noticed that the Penguins are at their top speed when they are breaking out of the zone with little pressure on their defensemen. He mentioned how their wings fly out of the zone when they see that the defensemen have ample time.

The Rangers have to put pressure on the Penguins' defensemen in order to keep the wings from breaking out quickly and getting behind them. It's a tall order when you consider how quickly the Penguins' defensemen can get to the puck and move it.

"I think we have some crazy speed up front and we want to put pucks to an area where if it's a 50/50 puck in an open space, more often than not one of our fast wings is going to beat a guy to a puck and make a defenseman's life miserable," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "That is the goal of what we're doing right now in our transition."

5. Never lose Letang: Part of pressuring the Penguins' defensemen requires the Rangers to always keep an eye on Kris Letang, who was identified as Pittsburgh's main key to success by several Rangers players and Vigneault.

Letang had 38 assists and 53 points in his final 46 games, and his 16 goals, 51 assists and 67 points were personal NHL-bests. He was as big of a factor in the Penguins' resurgence this season as Crosby.

"We have to try to finish him as much as we can," Rangers forward Derick Brassard said.

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