NEW YORK — Evgeni Malkin sent the Rangers home from Game 1 of their first-round playoff series tired and utterly disappointed.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star ended a triple-overtime affair at Madison Square Garden with a deflection goal in front of the net to hand the Blueshirts a 4-3 loss and drop them into a 0-1 hole to begin the seven-game series. It came 5:58 into the third OT on the 83rd shot of the night Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin saw.
The Pens played the final 16:40 with third-string goalie Louis Domingue. No. 1 Tristan Jarry has been out since April 14 due to a broken foot, and while backup Casey DeSmith played admirably in his absence, he exited during the second overtime with an undisclosed injury.
Domingue was surprisingly good considering the circumstances, making 17 saves to keep Pittsburgh’s hopes alive.
A roller coaster ride
The Rangers unleashed their bottled-up energy beginning right at puck drop, looking like a team that had been waiting for this playoff opportunity for five years. They dished out a handful of crushing hits in opening period while dictating the pace of the play, making it look like this could be a series that ends quickly.
Adam Fox capitalized on that momentum on their first power play, sneaking a wrist shot from the point past DeSmith to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead after 9:19 had been played.
Andrew Copp doubled the lead early in the second period, converting a one-timer from the slot on a feed from Ryan Strome at the 3:08 mark. But if anyone started believing it was going to be easy, they were in for a rude awakening.
The Rangers began the game by out-shooting Pittsburgh, 11-2. But for a stretch that started at the end of the first period and ran through the second, the Pens turned the tide by winning the shot battle, 33-12. That included a whopping 25 shots on goal in the second period alone, leading to three goals.
The first two came from Jake Guentzel on clear defensive breakdowns.
The Rangers were caught sleeping on the first after Shesterkin made a sprawling save on a rush chance from Kris Letang early in the second period. In the seconds following the save, Jacob Trouba drifted too far away from the net, leaving Guentzel wide open for a far-post feed from Sidney Crosby and an easy finish.
That cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to 2-1, with Guentzel tying the score at the 11:47 mark after he and Crosby beat Fox and Ryan Lindgren on a rush opportunity.
The Rangers briefly stopped the bleeding thanks to a game-altering play from Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. The latter scooped up a loose puck during a penalty kill and raced up the right wing before pushing a pass ahead to Kreider. He did the rest, chasing it down and deking DeSmith for a shorthanded goal that put the Blueshirts back on top, 3-2, with 2:53 remaining in the second period.
It felt like the type of play that would propel them to victory, but a shaky night from their D corps continued shortly thereafter. Patrik Nemeth was called for holding — his second penalty of the game — and Trouba was whistled for boarding, setting up the Penguins with a five-on-three opportunity with 2:11 left in the period.
They cashed in on a pretty passing play from Letang to Evgeni Malkin to Bryan Rust, sending the game into the third tied at 3-3.
A controversial moment
It appeared the Rangers took the lead again with 3:10 to play. Kaapo Kakko drove the net and fell after a collision with DeSmith, but stayed with the puck and made a nifty pass back to Filip Chytil while laying on his stomach.
Chytil finished into the open net, which sent the MSG crowd into a frenzy. But the goal was reviewed and ultimately waved off due to goalie interference.
Kakko clearly hit DeSmith, but he was also pushed by Brian Dumoulin at the last moment. The NHL Situation Room determined that Kakko’s path was heading toward DeSmith regardless of the Dumoulin hit, making it a controversial judgment call that wasn’t going to sit well with either side.
Would he have run into the goalie even if he wasn’t shoved? Or would he have narrowly avoided him?
The only sure thing was that the game remained tied at 3-3 and was on its way to overtime.