The Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5–2 in front of an electrifying crowd at Madison Square Garden to even the series at 1 game each on Thursday night.
Winning gave a significant sigh of relief to the Blue Shirts, who suffered a devastating loss in triple overtime on Tuesday to drop their first game of the playoffs, and give Pittsburgh home-ice advantage going forward.
New York entered the playoffs as the second seed in the Metropolitan Division with 110 points, while the Penguins captured the third spot with 103 points.
Thursday’s crowd was on its feet throughout the high-scoring game, and their passion only increased as the crucial contest continued.
Fellow New York City ball players came out to show their support for the only Big Apple team currently in the playoffs — including Yankee stars DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo, along with Mets legend John Franco and Giants defenseman Blake Martinez.
Both teams controlled the puck for a similar amount of time, while the Penguins slightly bested the Rangers with 41 shots, compared to New York’s 40.
Ultimately, though, the Rangers finished the game with a 3-goal winning margin, propelled by a consistent offensive attack through all 3 periods.
The Rangers struck first when Andrew Copp scored a one-timer 6:50 into the game from Artemi Panarin, sending the puck behind Louis Domingue, who came into the net during the second overtime of Game 1 after starter Casey DeSmith went down with a lower-body injury.
Domingue went on to make 17 saves his period-and-a-half that game, before Pittsburg forward Evgeni Malkin scored to upset the home team. The longtime backup got his first career playoff start on Thursday, as DeSmith’s injury persisted and he was unable to suit up for the second game of the playoffs.
Penguins left winger Jake Guentzel would quiet the crowd soon after Copp’ goal by evening the game at 1 with 11 minutes remaining in the 1st, coming off a rebound from Marcus Pettersson.
That puck found the back of the net behind Ranger goalie Igor Shesterkin, who came into the playoffs leading the league in goals against average and save percentage — and is a heavy favorite to win the Hart Memorial Trophy this year.
Shesterkin made 39 saves on the night, for a save percentage of 95.1%, compared to Domingue’s 87.5%.
The nervous crowd would get relief in the 2nd period, as Ryan Strome scored his first goal of the playoffs with a deflected shot from Adam Fox to cross the goal line with 17 minutes left in the 2nd period, after Pittsburgh’s John Marino went to the penalty box for 2 minutes for cross checking Andrew Copp.
That would be the only power play goal of the game for either team, despite a combined 20 minutes in the box — 12 for the Penguins, and 8 for the Blue Shirts.
The team’s goal-leader, Chris Kreider, followed up Strome’s score with another deflection from Frank Vatrano, finding the back of the net just over 12 minutes into the 2nd period to give the Blue Shirts a 3–1 cushion.
Kreider boasts the distinction of being the only Rangers player who was with the squad during their trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2014, when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings.
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Hopes of a runaway victory were dashed, however, as the 3–1 safety net Kreider gave the team wouldn’t last long.
Crosby, who received a chorus of boos from the Garden crowd every time he touched the puck, managed to criss-cross 4 Blue Shirts with 1:26 remaining in the quarter, before passing to Mike Matheson for a missed shot — and a rebound goal from Crosby.
Heading into the 3rd period, the Blue Shirts were nursing a 3–2 lead, and looked to keep their divisional rivals at bay.
Artemi Panarin helped do just that, putting the Rangers back up by 2 with a goal midway in the 3rd period from behind the net that hit off the back of DeSmith and gave the Blue Shirts much-needed berthing room.
To cap things off, left-winger Frank Vatrano scored on a wrist-shot while heading with a full head of steam towards the net with just over 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
Following the matchup, the team announced their “3 Stars of the Game,” which included Frank Vatrano (1 goal, 2 assists), Igor Shesterkin (39 saves), and Artemi Panarin (1 goal, 2 assists).
The teams will now head to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins will host the Rangers for the third and fourth games of the series on May 7 and May 9.
They will then return back to Madison Square Garden for game 5 on May 11.