PITTSBURGH -- There was a role reversal between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference First Round series.
Much like Pittsburgh in Game 3, New York started slowly, with two shots in the first period Wednesday. Unlike the Penguins in Game 3, the Rangers stayed within one goal and responded to tie the game, force overtime, and earn a 2-1 victory.
It gave New York a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series heading back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, MSG).
"[After the first period] I think we all were just thinking how the other games started; it was flipped from the first three games," Rangers forward Carl Hagelin said. "We knew that even though we played great in the second game, we had only [led] 1-0, and they came back. We had that in the back of our mind, if we keep pushing, hopefully they would back off a little bit and give us some space. That happened."
The Penguins took a cue from the Rangers from the first three games, scoring first, containing New York in its end, and doing a serviceable job of getting pucks on goalie Henrik Lundqvist. More than five minutes into the second period, the Rangers had three power plays and two shots.
The problem for the Penguins came on the scoreboard. They held a 1-0 lead despite their dominance, which left little room for error. New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh wrapped a shot around the Pittsburgh net, it bounced through the crease, and Derick Brassard scored past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's pad and Paul Martin's stick.
Just like that, New York tied the game 1-1 and squandered the impressive start Pittsburgh had been looking for.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy was one of the more vocal Penguins who emphasized the importance of a fast start Wednesday. After experiencing the first period he wanted, and failing to capitalize, Lovejoy said he was frustrated with the outcome.
"It proved difficult for us," Lovejoy said. "I thought we had a great first period. They came out hungry in the second and were able to turn pucks over and go the other way. Their speed generated a lot of momentum for them. They were able to get a bunch of shots in a row and create zone time. That ultimately created an even game in the third period and they were able to whack one in."
Kevin Hayes ended the game 3:14 into overtime. Fleury allowed two goals, each when he was caught in an awkward position with little chance of keeping the puck from sneaking into the net.
Fleury is 1-6 in his past seven Stanley Cup Playoff starts, all against the Rangers. He's allowed 2.57 goals per game, and two goals in each of his losses this series.
"We just have to keep grinding it out," Fleury said. "We're up against the wall here. We're not done, that's for sure … I think we'll be fine [on Friday]. Tonight was a little tough, obviously, but that's all you can do in the playoffs. You just forget about it as soon as possible.
"You come in tomorrow, go back to work and make sure we're ready for Friday."
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said he thought Lundqvist, who made 22 saves, was the primary reason New York's slow start wasn't the deciding factor in Game 4.
"In the playoffs, it's tough to start a game that way. I think we were lucky it was 1-0. It could've been a lot worse," Staal said. "[Lundqvist] made some big saves. So, definitely lesson learned in coming out that flat. So, we have to be better, for sure in our building. … No one here thinks about our goaltending. He just does his job."
New York and Pittsburgh face a similar situation to the one they were in a year ago. The favored Penguins took a 3-1 second-round lead against the Rangers back to Pittsburgh. New York won three straight games to reach the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers now play the role of the favored team bringing a sizable lead back home. The Penguins are the overlooked underdog with nothing to lose.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the best way to avoid history repeating itself is to concentrate solely on the next game.
"Our focus and our mindset is not going to deviate from our first game of the regular season," Vigneault said. "We take every game one game at a time. And that's what we're going to do on Friday."
Penguins coach Mike Johnston is abiding by the same philosophy.
"You look at every game, they're 2-1 games," Johnston said. "So the message can't be, 'We need you to score.' The message needs to be, 'Here are some ways we can generate some more offense. Here are some things we can do.' Recognizing how to play in the offensive zone a little bit better. Make a few more plays there, with emphasis on the attack. But how we're defending, we had them for four (scoring) chances in the third period. We had them for one chance in the first period.
"We're playing the right way. Yeah, I know the results haven't swung in our favor 2-1, but they will."