I didn’t know a 2-1 playoff win could feel easy. I didn’t know clinging to a one-goal lead the final 33:45 of a playoff game could feel easy. I didn’t know any playoff game could feel as easy as Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Penguins felt. But that easiness has to do with Sam Rosen screaming for a Rangers goal just 28 seconds into the postseason.
When Derick Brassard split the Penguins defense untouched and unnoticed to bang home a rebound on Rick Nash’s textbook far-side rebound-chance shot to open the playoffs and send the Garden into five-alarm gongshow status before fans could enjoy the first sip of their first-period beers, the game was over. Even if was just a one-goal lead and even if the Rangers would lead by only one goal for 48:23 of the 59:32 following Brassard’s goal, the game never felt close. It never felt like a one-goal game.
I have never felt this confident about the Rangers, especially in the playoffs. Usually the Rangers are in the Penguins’ position. Usually they’re the underdog that clinched on the last day of the season and can’t find a way to score consistently and whose superstars are nowhere to be found in the postseason.
But it was Rick Nash’s shot that led to Derick Brassard’s first-period goal and it was Ryan McDonagh who scored the Rangers’ second goal on assists from Keith Yandle and Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers’ highest-paid player, their $25 million center, their captain, their biggest trade acquisition and their latest contract extension came through. And in net, Henrik Lundqvist was his usual self, as their $59.5 million goalie stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced.
Meanwhile, for Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby was pointless, minus-1, held to one shot on goal and limited to 3:42 of ice time in the first period because of the Penguins’ four first-period penalties. Evgeni Malkin was also pointless and had just two shots on goal. Chris Kunitz, also pointless (but if Crosby is pointless then so is Kunitz since that’s the only way he scores) didn’t register a shot on goal and his goalie interference penalty was the first of those four.
The Penguins ran around in the first and were out of position and undisciplined summarizing the team that lost it’s hold on the Met earlier in the season and didn’t clinch a playoff berth until Game 82. However, oddly enough, Crosby didn’t think so.
“We were thinking a little too much, trying to play the right way, be disciplined, play our position,” Crosby said. “But sometimes when you’re thinking out there you’re not reacting and you get behind.”
I don’t know if there has ever been a worse review of a performance (maybe the critics who said Dumb and Dumber To was worth going to see), but that has to be the worst evaluation ever of something that happened. Crosby didn’t get one thing right and his Penguins did the exact opposite of everything he said.
The Rangers dominated the Penguins in the way that everyone who has picked the Rangers to reach the Final for the second straight season imagined they would. Even though most of the Rangers’ quality scoring chances came in the first period, it never felt like the Penguins were really in the game despite the score, and it never felt like they were going to steal the momentum of the game. Martin St. Louis agreed.
“I didn’t think they ever really had the momentum, I don’t think it was a situation where we were trapped.”
It didn’t matter that the Rangers didn’t score again after McDonagh’s goal or that they weren’t able to amount the same type offense in the second and third periods that they had in the first. Like St. Louis, said, “It’s about winning the game, you know? It’s about winning the game.”
And now it’s about winning the next one.