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McDonagh sends Rangers past Penguins in Game 1

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Rick Nash shot for the pads, Derick Brassard dashed down the middle of the ice in search of the rebound, and the New York Rangers got the goal and the start they were hoping for Thursday.

The result they wanted followed more than 59 minutes later.

The Rangers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden. Brassard got the Rangers started with a goal 28 seconds into the game off a rebound from Nash's shot that bounced off Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's pads.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh scored on a power play in the first period, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves to help New York take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series.

Game 2 is Saturday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA).

"Couldn't write that any better," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "It was a great way to start the hockey game. Our crowd was loud, they were into it, and just a simple play, shot off the wing, go to the net, and we end up converting on it."

Lundqvist has allowed four goals in four consecutive playoff wins against the Penguins dating to last season, when the Rangers trailed the series 3-1 but advanced to the Eastern Conference Final with a win in Game 7 of the second round.

The Rangers have won all three games against the Penguins at home this season, including two in the regular season.

"It's always important to build in a series, start with one and you try to feel good about yourself and your performance," Lundqvist said. "When you win you definitely feel a lot better, but it's just one.

"It was definitely a good start."

Forward Blake Comeau scored in the second period, and Fleury made 36 saves for Pittsburgh. The Penguins gave the Rangers five power plays, including four in the first period, which limited captain Sidney Crosby to seven shifts and 3:42 ice time.

New York outshot Pittsburgh 38-25; the Rangers held an 18-5 advantage five minutes into the second period.

McDonagh scored his power-play goal at 15:16 of the second, during the Rangers' third man-advantage. He scored on a one-timer from the left point off a pass from defenseman Keith Yandle that hit off Fleury and went into the net to give New York a 2-0 lead.

"The momentum, the crowd, the surge, and those penalties, they earned it," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "It took a lot of momentum away from our team. Key players couldn't get on the ice, so certainly that was a key factor in the start of the game."

The Penguins made it 2-1 in the second, which was the better of their first two periods considering they were faster and stayed out of the penalty box. It allowed them to establish some puck possession time low in the Rangers zone.

Comeau's first NHL playoff goal came at 6:15, capping a four-shot sequence by the Penguins' fourth line, which generated pressure and continued to hunt down the puck and send shots at Lundqvist after he made saves.

The first shot came from center Maxim Lapierre from the goal line. The second came from Comeau off the rebound of Lapierre’s shot. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy had the third shot, and Comeau scored on the rebound with Lapierre causing havoc in front of the net.

Lapierre gained position in the slot on Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle, who couldn't get to the loose puck before Comeau.

"Our game started to come as we played them 5-on-5, which was a good sign, a positive sign," Johnston said. "But we need to look at the whole game, including the penalties."

The Penguins can't ignore the first shift either. That's when the Rangers set the tone, and it was off of a set play, according to Brassard.

Defenseman Dan Girardi connected with Nash on a stretch pass out of the defensive zone. Nash shot quickly from the top of the left circle. The puck hit Fleury, came to the middle of the ice in between the hash marks, and Penguins defenseman Paul Martin couldn't recover in time to stop Brassard from getting to the rebound for an easy put-back.

"It's all a credit to Rick there; he didn't shoot to score, he did that on purpose," Brassard said.

Brassard said he and Nash work on that specific play a lot during practice.

"Not every practice, but we have a drill that we do," he said. "We want to be a drive, drive team. We want to have a guy always in the middle there, and if you look at our practices you're going to find that play quite often."

Brassard said he was surprised he was so open.

"Honestly I'm going to have to look at the replay, I don't know what happened," he said. "Usually when you drive in the middle like that the defenseman is going to take you; I think we got them spread out in the neutral zone and Rick got it on the wide side there, and I was wide open."

The Penguins followed Brassard's goal with four penalties. Kunitz went for goalie interference, defenseman Taylor Chorney for interference on Rangers forward Tanner Glass, Comeau for roughing center Dominic Moore, and forward David Perron for slashing left wing Carl Hagelin.

Pittsburgh was the most penalized team in the NHL during the regular season.

"We were good in the first period, had the puck a lot, made some great plays, and we were able draw lot of penalties," Staal said. "It was definitely a good start to the hockey game. They started getting a little closer to us in the second and third. They did a better job in the neutral zone and we weren't getting as many breaks as we did in the first period. They kept it close, but we hung on."

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