The secret is out, if it really ever was a secret at all.
To score goals in the playoffs, especially against Vezina Trophy finalists like Henrik Lundqvist, you simply can’t be shy about shooting the puck into and, if you’re lucky, through traffic in front of the net.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers both did it virtually all night long in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal, and the results spoke for themselves.
Of the Penguins’ five goals, three went in off legs or skates positioned directly in front of Lundqvist, including the game-winner off of Evgeni Malkin’s shin or knee or whatever with 1:41 to play in the third period. Of the Rangers’ four goals, two went off a skate or stick in front of Penguins goalie Marc-André Fleury before crossing the goal line.
“That’s where you’re going to score at this time of the year,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who assisted on the game-winner because his one-timer from the top of the right circle found Malkin’s leg. “It’s no fluke that they’re going in from in tight. That’s where you get your chances now.”
Crosby and Petr Sykora both commented on how the ice made a big difference in how the teams were trying to score Friday night. They said it wasn’t good so the puck was bouncing a lot, which means shooters needed to get it on net any way possible.
“It was one of those weird games where pucks were bouncing everywhere,” Crosby said. “With the conditions out there and the puck bouncing everywhere, it’s never a bad play just to put it on net.”
However, there is a method here that can’t go unnoticed. The more you shoot, the better your chances are Even more important is not getting discouraged when the bounces don’t go your way.
Case in point: The Penguins had the first eight shots of the game, but Lundqvist steered them away or gobbled them up like the Vezina finalist he is. Once the Rangers scored the first goal 13:40 into the game, credited to Martin Straka by way of Sergei Gonchar’s left foot, the Penguins seemed to stop shooting. After holding an 8-0 lead in shots on goal 8:45 into the game, the Penguins were up only 9-7 at the first intermission. Before long they were down 3-0 where it matters — and something had to change or they would have been whitewashed out of their own whiteout.
“I looked up once and the shots were 8-2 or 9-2 so we were doing it,” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. “(Lundqvist) is one of the best goalies in the League. You have to shoot and you have to get traffic. We did that, but we obviously stopped doing that a little. I think it was more that we weren’t getting the puck in the zone to get the transition game going, but once we did that we started shooting again — and you saw what happened.”
What happened is the Penguins started scoring. No surprise there.
Jarkko Ruutu got them going with a goal off of Michal Rozsival’s skate in the second period. With the deficit 3-2 early in the third, Marian Hossa scored the tying goal from the corner with a low shot that redirected by Lundqvist off of Scott Gomez. “When I looked I saw no one open, I just saw so many pairs of skates,” Hossa said. “I just fired it on the ice hoping for the lucky bounce.”
And, of course, there was the game-winner, the ultimate testament to shooting and hoping something magical happens. Crosby ripped a one-timer from just above the circle. If the puck doesn’t hit Malkin …
"I saw it was going wide and I reached for it and it hit Malkin's leg and went in," Lundqvist said.
Whitney called it “lucky” — hardly. The Penguins bench and crowd erupted as if the Stanley Cup had just been won.
“Right now there is not much time for fancy play,” Hossa said. “Lots of ugly goals are good in the playoffs.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.