Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2008 [Print without images]

Friday, April 25, 2008
Appearances are deceiving in Game 1 of Rangers-Pens series

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- When uberpest Sean Avery scored in the second period to give the New York Rangers a 3-0 lead in Friday's Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, the die seemed to be cast.

Not enough Marc-Andre Fleury, too much Henrik Lundqvist and far too much savvy on the New York bench to let this one get out of hand. This was going to be an emphatic reminder that the Penguins' first-round sweep of Ottawa meant nothing and the patient Rangers were about to teach them what it meant to play a good team.

More from Game 1

• The Penguins averaged 40 shots a game in their opening-round sweep of the Ottawa Senators. They had 26 in Game 1 on Friday night.

• Although much was made of the nine-day layoff the Penguins enjoyed (endured?), the Rangers had some rust, too, having eliminated the New Jersey Devils last Friday night.

"I think when you get a break like that, to get out of the rhythm of playing, to get out of the responsibility of making decisions in game situations, having to maintain a level of intensity and passion and emotion to play, it's difficult to do it when you had time off," New York coach Tom Renney said.

• There were whispers after the game that the NHL's ice guru, Dan Craig, was going to be called in to see whether he could help improve the quality of the ice at Mellon Arena, the league's oldest barn.

• Penguins fans were given white T-shirts and towels to wave, a la the old Winnipeg Jets. The "whiteout" was introduced at the urging of Sidney Crosby.

-- Scott Burnside

Well, that's the way it looked, but not the way it played out.

Apparently not having received the memo that the Rangers' experience was going to be the pivotal factor in this second-round series, the Penguins erased a 3-0 New York lead to capture the opener of their Eastern semifinal series 5-4.

"I guess ignorance is bliss, really," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It's a lot of young guys, certainly a lot of guys with not a lot of experience. And, sometimes, that's a good thing because you don't think, you just play."

"We just got too loose. We haven't been that loose all year," Chris Drury said. "But that team, with all their firepower, they'll make you pay."

Sidney Crosby's rocket shot glanced off Evgeni Malkin in front of the Rangers goal with 1:41 left in regulation to complete what was a remarkable comeback against a team that is among the last you'd expect to allow such a reversal of fortune (New York was the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference this season).

The finish was different from the first half of this game, when the Rangers followed what was pretty much the perfect road script. Although they didn't record their first shot on goal until 8:45 of the first period, the Rangers opened a 3-0 lead by the 3:37 mark of the second frame.

The Penguins couldn't dent Vezina Trophy finalist Lundqvist, and the air seemed to go out of Mellon Arena and its white-T-shirt-clad fans as the Rangers methodically capitalized on nearly every chance they were given. It is the Rangers way, and it seemed as though their third goal would be the one that would sink the Penguins. It was scored by Avery, a long shot Fleury should have handled, but didn't, and it sneaked through under his arm.

Answering the Avery goal in a battle of agitators, Jarkko Ruutu bounced a centering pass off New York defenseman Michal Rozsival and, 14 seconds later, Pascal Dupuis ripped home a slap shot off a lovely pass from the corner by Crosby to make it 3-2.

"They maybe thought we were going to close the book right there, but we came back hard, got a lucky bounce in front of their D, and after that, our line scored a big goal and it got rolling from there," Dupuis said. "Obviously, it's not the position you dream of [being down 3-0]. You know what? It's hard, especially with that layoff. Nine days without playing, you miss the intensity. It's not an excuse. But when we scored one, we scored two, the crowd got into it. We got back in playoff mode a little bit, and it seemed to get rolling from there."

Marian Hossa bounced one in off Scott Gomez to tie the score at 3 before Petr Sykora, off a terrific pass from Malkin close in, gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead.

Sidney Crosby
The Penguins scored four unanswered goals en route to a 5-4 comeback win over the Rangers in Game 1.

Even when New York tied it midway through the third period, it seemed the scriptwriters decided which way this drama would play out, and it wasn't going to turn out well for the visitors.

Martin Straka, who opened the scoring, impeded Crosby's path on what could have been a 2-on-1 and was whistled for interference with 3:20. The Rangers didn't like the call (Straka was given a game misconduct at the end of the game after voicing his views on the call), but it was a needless effort on Straka's part, given that Gomez broke things up with a nice defensive play.

"I just saw him and he was diving and that was it, period," Straka said.

"Crosby embellished," added Brendan Shanahan, who has three Stanley Cup rings from his days in Detroit.

Rangers coach Tom Renney was more cryptic. "Did you see it? Draw your own conclusion," he said.

New York had one last chance to change Game 1, and perhaps the tenor of this series, when Gomez redirected a shot past Fleury, but the puck struck the far post and stayed out.

What must be troubling for the Rangers is they didn't exactly sit back on this lead but rather had it torn from their hands.

"One of the things we have to do is become a more complete team, manage all three zones with five people, don't allow ourselves to become disconnected by poor decisions with the puck and attack more," Renney said. "I'm not sure we did that as well as we needed to tonight."

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.