At one end of the ice, Jeff Zatkoff was the star (more on his night here). At the other end, Patric Hornqvist provided him with a lot of goal support.
Hornqvist scored a hat trick to lead Pittsburgh past New York, 5-2, in Game 1 of their First Round matchup on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
And afterward, the smile that rarely leaves the Pittsburgh winger’s face was contagious, as head coach Mike Sullivan couldn’t help but grin when thinking about the performance Hornqvist had.
"He was great,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard not to love that guy. I just think he plays the game so hard. He’s such a passionate guy. He goes to the net. He plays in the battle areas, so for him to get rewarded tonight, I think that was great."
It’s been a big year for Hornqvist in terms of caps littering the ice. Earlier this season – Hornqvist’s eighth in the league – he tallied his first career hat trick in his 488th game after 18 two-goal performances. He followed that up in his fifth postseason with his first career playoff hat trick.
“It’s just a big moment, obviously,” Hornqvist said. “It was a good night for me. I have never scored a hat trick in the playoffs. But the biggest thing was we got the big win, and the fans were great. They kept pushing us all night.”
Hornqvist’s first goal came when his team needed it most. After a shaky first period where the Pens were struggling in their defensive zone and got outshot by a wide margin, a puck ended up on Hornqvist's blade as he crashed the net and he quickly shot it through Henrik Lundqvist’s pads to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the frame.
“Obviously our first period was not as good as we wanted, but we got that late goal,” Hornqvist said. “Then I think we took over the game. We played the right way and came up with a big win.”
Lundqvist was injured right before that and while he remained in net for the end of the first, the Rangers netminder did not return for the second – meaning Hornqvist’s next goal came against backup Antti Raanta.
As expected, Hornqvist was right around the crease providing a net-front presence on the power play when Sidney Crosby’s shot bounced off Phil Kessel into the blue paint. Hornqvist stuffed it home to put the Pens up 4-1 a few minutes after New York had cut their lead to 2-1.
“We just tried to get the pucks to the goalie and create those scrums,” Hornqvist said. “Like my goals – there was one rebound right on my tape, and the second one was laying on the goal line. So just tried to get as many pucks as we could get there and then get the rebounds.”
Hornqvist completed his trio of goals when he sailed a shot into the empty net with 2:50 remaining in regulation to seal the victory.
He also recorded an assist when he made a tremendous defensive play to block a shot, and then sprung Crosby for a breakaway goal. Overall, Hornqvist finished the night with four points (3G-1A), setting a new career high for points in a postseason game. The last time a Penguin tallied 4 points in a playoff contest was James Neal (3G-1A) on May 24, 2013 vs. Ottawa.
Hornqvist played a crucial role in helping the Pens get the result they wanted despite not always playing the way they wanted. He’s confident they’ll bounce back from an inconsistent performance and be better on Saturday for Game 2.
“It gives us a lot of momentum for next game, and we know how to play to beat them,” he said. “I don’t think we had our best game at all, but we still came up with a big win. We need to change some things and try to get better here every night.”