Malkin winner in triple overtime ends a classic, Pens lead series 1-0, Overturned Chytil goal late in regulation questionable, Shesterkin makes Rangers franchise record 79 saves

The first postseason game in five years was a classic. Almost five years to the day, the Rangers lost a heart breaker to the Penguins 4-3 in triple overtime.

Evgeni Malkin scored at 105:58 of the third overtime when he deflected home a John Marino point shot to send a disappointed sellout crowd at MSG home. The Pens took Game One to steal home ice away.

It was a crusher due to the circumstances. After playing so well early to build a two-goal lead on goals from Adam Fox and Andrew Copp, the Rangers were outplayed by a wide margin for almost the remainder of what turned into a six period marathon.

Perhaps most disappointing was even in a lopsided second period where they were outshot 25-8, Chris Kreider’s momentum shifting shorthanded goal was negated by a Bryan Rust five-on-three goal that really took the air out of the balloon.

Had they been able to regain their composure and get the key penalty kills after Jacob Trouba took an unnecessary boarding minor on Jake Guentzel, maybe it’s a different end result. Instead, the Rangers must move on and get ready to even the best-of-seven first round series on Cinco De Mayo.

By now, the overturned call on a potential Filip Chytil go-ahead goal with 3:10 left in regulation has been covered everywhere. The controversial ruling came after Kaapo Kakko drove the net and was pushed from behind by Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin into Casey DeSmith.

Kakko made a great pass from his stomach for a Chytil finish that was called a goal by referee Chris Lee. But following a coach’s challenge by Mike Sullivan, they ruled in favor of the Pens very quickly. That doesn’t sit well. Why didn’t they take more time? Why no explanation on Rule 69.1?

Following the loss Ryan Strome indicated that it was a 50/50 call. Something Henrik Lundqvist echoed on the MSG postgame. Unfortunately, that reversal took away Chytil’s first postseason goal. Who knows how it would’ve played out. We can only wonder.

What can’t happen again on Thursday is the amount of shots the Pens got on Igor Shesterkin. He was unbelievable making a franchise record 79 saves on 83 shots in defeat.

The 79 are the second most in NHL history. Joonas Korpisalo made 85 in a five overtime loss to the Lightning. That also came in a Game One situation. A series the Blue Jackets lost to the Lightning. Let’s hope this isn’t a bad omen for the Rangers. Especially with how well Shesterkin played.

Neither can they allow the top line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Rust to dominate the way they did in the first game. The Pens’ most lethal line had their way throughout. They combined for three goals, seven points and 24 shots.

The worst part is they seemed to get stronger as the game went on. It didn’t matter who Gerard Gallant had matched up against them. They lost the battle. That important detail needs to change. Even if Ryan Lindgren can’t go. He missed significant portions of the game due to an injury that’s been nagging him. He didn’t return for the third overtime.

On the injury front, Lindgren also delivered a big hit that sent Rickard Rakell off for good late in the first period. After reviewing what was a major call, they ruled it two minutes for roughing. Sullivan had no update on the status of Rakell.

Even more unpredictable, the Pens lost goalie Casey DeSmith at the halfway point of the second overtime. He limped off with what they termed a “lower-body” injury. He will be evaluated as will Rakell.

Most frustrating is that the Rangers allowed third string netminder Louis Domingue to come in relief and make 17 saves to pick up the win. He never faced a ton of pressure. Will Domingue be the starting goalie for the Pens in Game Two? That’s anyone’s guess.

Of course, you give credit to Domingue for coming in ice cold and being composed enough to stop 17 shots. However, the other side of the coin is that the Blueshirts didn’t create enough traffic on the journeyman. He was able to see the shots. That included maybe his best stop on Copp in tight during the latter part of the second overtime.

As well as they played during a splendid first period that saw them get 15 shots on DeSmith and deliver some crowd pleasing crunching hits including a few from Ryan Reaves that both Marino and Chad Ruhwedel felt, the Rangers let the Penguins off the hook.

They certainly started well. Urged on by the crowd, they came out aggressively. Able to finish checks and generate chances off the cycle, it was all Rangers early on. When Reaves and Alexis Lafreniere weren’t hitting, you had some good testers on DeSmith who held up well.

The third line nearly got one off a strong forecheck. On a good play by Lafreniere behind the net, he took the puck to the net and looked to attempt a backhand deke. But lost control of the puck right to Chytil, whose low shot went into DeSmith for a save.

Following that sequence, DeSmith got over to glove away Frank Vatrano’s shot off a good pass from Adam Fox. He then denied an early Copp bid.

On a strong move by Kakko in transition, Chytil was slashed by Teddy Blueger for the game’s first penalty. Out came the Rangers’ top unit. With the aggressive Pens’ killers overplaying Kreider, he moved the puck for Zibanejad who then got it up top for a Fox wrist shot that beat DeSmith on a Strome screen at 9:19.

It was Fox’s first career postseason goal. Oddly enough, it was also his first power play goal of the season. He didn’t score a single time on it. Go figure. The play doesn’t happen if not for Kreider and Strome winning board battles to keep the play alive.

They could’ve led by more. But DeSmith made the big saves to give his team a chance to settle down. Once they did, it turned into a great game. He finished with 48 saves on 51 shots before exiting with 10:42 left in the second overtime.

A turning point might’ve been the first of two Patrik Nemeth minor penalties. Even though the Pens didn’t score on it, they gained momentum. They finished the first better by finally testing Shesterkin.

The Lindgren roughing minor might not have been a penalty. It was a heavy hit where he went shoulder to chest on Rakell, who went down with 1:19 left. Once they ruled it a major penalty, you knew it was going to be at least a minor. Hitting is part of hockey. Especially in the playoffs. You hope Rakell is okay.

Eventually, Sullivan moved Kasperi Kapanen up to the Malkin line. It paid off. Kapanen went from the fourth line to the second line. That’s how effective he was. A good move by a very proven championship coach, who had a better night than Gallant.

Following a successful kill early in the second period, Copp got free in the slot to bury home a perfect feed from Strome at 3:08. On the play, Jacob Trouba moved the puck down low for Strome, who came out and found Copp to make it 2-0.

But before anyone could get comfortable, the Pens came right back. On a bad pinch from K’Andre Miller, the Rangers got caught scrambling around in their zone. After a remarkable save from a sprawling Shesterkin, they fell asleep.

Rust got a loose puck to Crosby, who then fed Guentzel all alone in front for his first of the game at 4:32. The momentum turning goal came 1:24 after Copp’s goal.

That changed the game. It was all Pens afterwards. They won every battle. Whatever the Rangers did right in the first, they were abysmal in the second. To allow an opponent to get 25 shots on goal in a period is unacceptable. It’s the playoffs.

The Crosby line did whatever they wanted. It didn’t matter who was matched against them. Gallant started the game with Zibanejad versus Crosby. Both Lindgren-Fox and Miller-Trouba saw plenty of shifts against them.

Even the checking line of Barclay Goodrow, Kevin Rooney and Reaves had some time. Though it didn’t make sense in sudden death. Sullivan dictated the match-ups. Something that must change for tomorrow night.

After they victimized Miller and Trouba, this time the Crosby line turned Lindgren and Fox into spectators on a Guentzel tying goal at 11:47. There was a lot of puck watching from all five skaters including Artemi Panarin, Copp and Strome. Eventually, Crosby drew both Lindgren and an out of position Fox up before sending in Guentzel to beat Shesterkin for his second of the postseason.

If not for some strong saves from Shesterkin, the Pens could’ve gone ahead. Instead, a Nemeth minor turned into a potential momentum shift. On a face-off win from Kreider, Zibanejad jumped on the puck and made a perfect lead pass for a streaking Kreider who blew the doors off with a beautiful shorthanded goal with 2:53 remaining.

The patience he showed is why he’s been special. Kreider came in at such a high speed easily beating Guentzel and then tucking in a backhand past DeSmith for the 3-2 lead. He certainly showed up posting a goal and assist.

While still shorthanded, Trouba caught Guentzel from behind boarding him to hand the Pens a two-man advantage. Sullivan wisely used his timeout. It worked. With time winding down on the five-on-three, Kris Letang started a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play to Malkin, who found Rust for the tap in to again tie it with 90 seconds left.

It was too easy. Braden Schneider was left to defend by himself. He couldn’t prevent the Malkin one touch pass for Rust’s easy finish for a huge power play goal. That really came back to bite the Rangers. They took too many undisciplined penalties. Another area that must be better.

One of the problems the coaching staff had was the sudden loss of Lindgren. That undisclosed injury he’s been in and out of the lineup with became a factor. He missed a lot of shifts, even going back to the locker room after testing it out.

That forced Gallant and Gord Murphy to shuffle the deck. He had to double shift Fox, Miller and Trouba. That meant a lot of tough assignments while Nemeth also had to step up and play with Fox. Miller saw some time with Schneider. It is a lot to ask. If Lindgren can’t go for Game Two, that means Justin Braun is in.

There are already casualties on both sides following last night’s marathon. The first triple overtime game at The Garden since Pete Stemkowski beat the Blackhawks on April 29, 1971.

The third period was much more guarded. As expected in a tie game, neither team wanted to make the one mistake that could cost them the game. That resulted in tighter checking.

There were still 23 total shots with the Pens holding a 12-11 edge. But the chances were earned. Both DeSmith and Shesterkin didn’t budge. It was like a gunfight at high noon.

Eventually, Kakko made a terrific defensive play in his end to create a great opportunity. With time and space, he took the puck hard to the tin and nearly beat DeSmith. But after Dumoulin pushed him from behind into the Pens goalie, Kakko made a heckuva pass for a Chytil finish into an open net with 3:10 left.

Just when you thought Chytil had the potential game-winner in Game One, a Sullivan challenge for goaltender interference was successful in record fashion. If I didn’t know any better, Toronto couldn’t wait to reverse it. Conspiracy theory be damned.

Obviously, there were a lot of boos and obligatory chants from the crowd about the refs. I too was incensed. But what can we do. That was the call. As hard as it was due to the third line playing well, the Rangers still had a chance to win it in overtime.

The first OT was their best opportunity. On a good Fox rush where he had a chance to shoot from the slot, he made the extra pass for Strome, who flubbed the potential winner. He didn’t expect it. Had he, we’re not talking about a gut wrenching loss. Even in a game he scored, Fox passed in that spot.

Too many Blueshirts passed. Especially Panarin, who had a night to forget. He was marked well by the Pens. They limited his time and space. But he had some bad turnovers even in sudden death that can’t happen. Held without a point, Panarin must turn the page.

The first overtime was by far their best. Kakko nearly won it on a good redirection only for DeSmith to make the huge save. Lafreniere also got a hard shot on DeSmith who shutdown the five-hole.

A Miller giveaway to Crosby nearly ended it. But Guentzel had his shot ring off the crossbar. That close to a playoff hat trick. The giveaways were a huge problem. The Rangers had 75 giveaways to the Penguins’ 45. Yikes. Only Kakko and Rooney didn’t have a giveaway.

As sudden death moved along, it became clear that it favored the Pens. They were more aggressive. Especially once DeSmith indicated to the officials that he couldn’t continue. They really went for it.

I thought the Rangers were far too passive. They were indecisive and fumbled pucks. Many passes were intercepted causing more attack time by the Pens. You can’t play that soft now. They got bodies in front and won most of the battles.

At one point following the mandatory 10-minute stoppage, Gallant sent out the fourth line for an offensive draw. This made no sense. You have to go for it after that break. Why not put out the Zibanejad or Panarin line? That same fourth line got caught out versus the Crosby line, who got two good chances.

By the start of the third OT, it looked like the Rangers were melting on ice. Think the Wicked Witch from Wizard Of Oz. It was only a matter of time before the Pens ended it.

Finally, Kapanen stole a puck from both Schneider and Chytil behind the Ranger net. He passed up for Marino, who patiently maneuvered around Lafreniere to get his point shot off. With nobody picking up Malkin, he tipped in the overtime winner at 5:58 of the sixth period.

There isn’t much else to add. They gave up 83 shots and way too many attempts. How much does a loss like that take out of our team? They’ve been resilient all year. It’s now time to see if they can do it with the stakes much higher.

Win Game Two and it’s all even headed back to Pittsburgh. They must get it done.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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