Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 1.
1. Turning point
The Rangers were all over the Pens from the moment the puck dropped to start the third. They hit a post off the opening faceoff and ended up drawing two penalties on the Pens. Carl Hagelin got a double-minor for high-sticking while Ian Cole got one for roughing. That meant the Rangers would have a 5-on-3 power play for the first two minutes and then a 5-on-4 for the second two, with the Pens holding onto a 2-0 lead. Needless to say, that was the turning point of the game right there. And when Derek Stepan scored to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one on a pretty play, the Pens didn’t get discouraged. Instead, they showed that resiliency that has been their trademark under head coach Mike Sullivan. Rookie Tom Kuhnhackl, making his NHL playoff debut, scored a huge shorthanded goal that completely amped up the Pens and swung the momentum back on their side. As a result, the Pens drew a man-advantage of their own and Patric Hornqvist converted it for the second of his three goals on the night. That’s exactly the kind of response the Pens needed after getting stuck in a difficult situation.
2. Bail out
The Pens didn’t play anywhere close to their best game. They had trouble establishing offensive zone time and looked lost in their own end for stretches. But thanks to their goaltender, they were able to stay in it. I can’t say enough about the way Jeff Zatkoff played in this game, his NHL playoff debut and just his second appearance since Feb. 20. The Pens were especially shaky in their defensive zone during the first period, and the Rangers took advantage – firing nine shots in the first five minutes. But Zatkoff turned aside every one, and kept going from there. It’s not like the Rangers were lobbing soft shots from the perimeter. They were forcing him to make a lot of difficult stops and he was able to get behind everything they threw at him. Arguably his most memorable stretch came during a Rangers power play in the second period, where Zatkoff was absolutely brilliant. As the clock ticked down, Pens fans got on their feet and alternated chants of “ZATKOFF! ZATKOFF!” with “JEFF! JEFF!” It was an awesome note to end the night on.
3. Poor puck management
The Pens are strongest when they’re playing a quick transition game and using their speed. They weren’t able to do that with much success tonight. To be fair, the Rangers put a focus on it. Alain Vigneault said this morning that from what he had seen, the Pens clogged up the neutral zone more than they had in the past and it was an area they'd be honing in on. But I don’t think it was necessarily anything they did – I think the Pens just had poor puck management in that area. They were giving the puck away too much, which is exactly what they said they couldn’t do. That’s something they’ll have to clean up moving forward. They did get better in that regard as the game went along.