Except for a win by the home side, the first N.H.L. playoff game at Madison Square Garden in five years had about everything a hockey game could have.
New York Rangers, welcome back to the playoffs. The intensity, the pace, and the referees’ willingness to allow both sides to play. And so it goes.
The Rangers haven’t been in the playoffs in over a decade, and their return to the race for the Stanley Cup was an instant reminder of why postseason hockey is so exciting and sad for the losing club.
On Tuesday, the Rangers were that team, losing 4-3 in quadruple overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a game that set multiple postseason records. Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins deflected a shot from the point from teammate John Marino past Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers goaltender, 5 minutes and 58 seconds into the third overtime to end the longest opening game of a playoff series since 1939.
“It’s a playoff game against one of our rivals,” said Bryan Rust, who had a goal and two helpers for the Penguins. “We expected a good, fast, hard-hitting game, and that’s exactly what we got.”
The game contained everything: power-play goals, shorthanded goals, scores reversed on review, shots hitting the goalposts, a goaltender limping off the ice with an apparent injury, and near-miss after a near miss.
There were 151 shots on goal between the Rangers and the Penguins. Shesterkin, who led the league in goals-against average during the regular season, stopped 79 shots in the playoffs, the second-most in a single game.
Shesterkin fell short of Joonas Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who established the record for saves in a game with 85 in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020. That game also marked the start of a first-round series. Shesterkin was the seventh goalie in NHL history to make more than 70 saves in a game, and the first Ranger to do so.
In retrospect, there were other near misses that could have sent the spectators home far earlier than the game-winning goal by Malkin at 11:48 p.m. The Rangers had their best chance with just over three minutes left in regulation time when they appeared to score the game-winning goal.
Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers sprinted for the goal, trailed by Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin. As he collided with Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, Dumoulin looked to push or lean on Kakko’s back. Kakko slid by the goalie and tipped the puck to Filip Chytil, who blasted it into an open net.
However, the Penguins protested the goal, and after a video review, the referee concluded that Kakko had not been pushed and had thus interfered with Smith, and the goal was overturned.
Rangers centre Ryan Strome stated later, “It was a three-overtime game, so you could go back on a lot of plays.” “It was a 4-3 game, but they got the game-winning goal.”
The Rangers were inexperienced and younger than the Penguins. Only Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad remain from the team’s last postseason appearance in 2017. Shesterkin had a fantastic regular season but had only appeared in one postseason game.
In the first period, the Rangers, the league’s sixth-youngest club, came out hungry, throwing their weight around and getting to pucks faster than the Penguins, who have the fourth-oldest squad.
Near the midway of the session, Rangers defenseman Adam Fox collected a feed from Zibanejad and unleashed a wrist shot from near the blue line that went over DeSmith’s right shoulder.
At times, the Rangers’ excitement got the best of them. Defenseman Ryan Lindgren was sent off for two minutes with less than two minutes left in the first period after shoving his shoulder into Pittsburgh winger Rickard Rakell’s jaw. Rakell’s head snapped and he collapsed to the ice, needing assistance. Lindgren received a five-minute penalty, which was later reduced to a two-minute minor.
The Rangers continued where they left off in the second period. Strome went behind the net and passed a pass to Andrew Copp, who buried a shot from close range while crawling toward the net on one knee just over three minutes into the game.
However, just as the Rangers appeared to be settling in, the Penguins regained their stride. Crosby passed the ball in front of the net less than 90 seconds later, and Jake Guentzel, the team’s leading goal scorer, tipped it in.
Crosby found Guentzel again seven minutes later after cutting through the top of the zone unguarded. Shesterkin had a split second to respond.
Since making his NHL playoff debut in 2017, Guentzel’s 28 playoff goals are fourth in the league. pic.twitter.com/2CwQY0Ukoq
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 4, 2022
After Patrik Nemeth was sent off for his second penalty of the game, the Rangers restored the lead. During a Pittsburgh power play, Zibanejad won a face-off, battled his way up the ice, and spotted Kreider flying down the left side. Kreider tricked DeSmith and scored a short-handed goal on a backhand.
Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba was also sent off before Nemeth could return from the penalty box. The Rangers nearly burned off Nemeth’s penalty despite being down two men. However, Malkin sent the puck to Letang, who redirected it to Rust to square the game at three goals apiece.
In the second period, the Penguins outshot the Rangers 25-8.
In the third period and the first two overtimes, neither team scored, and there were no penalties. The players became slower to get to their benches as the game progressed, their passes became less sharp, and they collided with each other more frequently.
DeSmith staggered off the ice and into the locker room during a timeout midway through the second overtime. Louis Domingue, who had only played two games this season, took his position. All 17 bullets he faced were stopped.
Between the first and second intermissions, Domingue ate a feast of spicy pork and broccoli, he revealed after the game. He admitted, “Not the best.” “I wasn’t planning on going in.”
The guys appeared to be weighed down by their sweat-soaked jerseys and skates. Between intervals, Guentzel and his teammates ate bananas and energy bars, according to him.
Before heading to the locker room after the game, he told Sportsnet, “I feel amazing.”After Malkin scored the game-winning goal, he and the Penguins must have felt relieved.