Pens try to avoid 0-2 hole against Rangers

( – The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to avoid another bad
start when they attempt to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in
Saturday’s Game 2 battle against the New York Rangers.

The Penguins are underdogs in this best-of-seven series against the
Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers and fell 2-1 in the opening game Thursday
night at Madison Square Garden.

However, Pittsburgh can take some positives from the Game 1 loss so long as it
looks past the first period.

The Penguins, who limped into the playoffs by going 4-9-2 over their final 15
games of the regular season, found themselves down 1-0 just 28 seconds into
the game when Derick Brassard scored on a rebound. Pittsburgh also gave New
York four power-play opportunities over the opening 20 minutes and the Rangers
cashed in on one of them to take a 2-0 lead into the second period.

That would be all the offense New York would need, as Henrik Lundqvist picked
up the victory with a 24-save performance. Blake Comeau was the only Penguin
to beat Lundqvist when he cut the deficit in half at the 6:15 mark of the
second period.

After getting outshot 13-5 in the first period, the Pens managed to fire 20
shots on goal over the final 40 minutes. The Blueshirts won the overall shot
battle 38-25.

“The start and being tentative, that’s got to be gone,” said Pens captain
Sidney Crosby. “It does happen sometimes in a series in that first game when
you’re trying to feel your way through it. We were definitely guilty of that.
We have to make sure we improve our start.”

The Pens hope to break through with a win tonight or they’ll face a 0-2
deficit when they host the Rangers in Game 3 on Monday. However, New York has
won 17 of its last 26 playoff games at home.

Pittsburgh’s best player was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He stopped 36 shots
for the Penguins, who qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the
season and are looking to avenge a semifinal loss last year to the Rangers.
New York won last season’s playoff encounter in seven after falling behind
three games to one.

Ryan McDonagh scored a power-play goal for the Rangers, who enter this
postseason aiming for a second straight Eastern Conference title and their
first Stanley Cup crown since 1994.

“It’s definitely a good start we had tonight,” said Lundqvist. “Puck
management is key and I thought we played a really smart game. Both teams know
what to expect and there’s not going to be any surprises. It comes down to
execution and we played a strong 60-minute game.”

New York defenseman Dan Girardi left Game 1 in the third period after taking a
puck to the face, but he was back at practice on Friday and is expected to
play tonight. Fellow defenseman Kevin Klein skated on Friday, but still hasn’t
been cleared to play after breaking his arm last month. Klein expects to miss
an 18th straight game tonight.

Pittsburgh played without defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Kris Letang and
Derrick Pouliot on Thursday. Ehrhoff is questionable for tonight with a head
injury, while Letang’s concussion could keep him out for the entire playoffs.
Pouliot is suffering from an upper-body injury and also is questionable for
Game 2.

After storming back to defeat Pittsburgh in last season’s playoffs, the
Rangers posted a 3-0-1 record in four meetings during the 2014-15 season
series. New York outscored the Pens by a 16-8 margin during the regular

New York’s seven-game series’ win over the Pens last season marked the club’s
first-ever victory over Pittsburgh in the postseason. The Rangers had lost the
previous four encounters before charging back to defeat Pittsburgh a year ago.