From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – All is well again for Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.
Lundqvist and the Rangers survived an injury scare to the star goaltender’s right eye Wednesday that could’ve derailed their playoff hopes.
Now, they are alive and well.
And it looks like Lundqvist and the Rangers have returned to form all while pulling even with the Pittsburgh Penguins during their best-of-seven playoff series.
Lundqvist allowed the first goal, but the Rangers scored the next four, spoiling Evgeni Malkin’s return from injury with a 4-2 victory against the Penguins during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round series Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“I think the big thing for me was just to go to the specialist and just find out that there was no damage to the eye,” Lundqvist said. “When you know there’s nothing wrong with the eye, you know you can go out there and push yourself, and whatever is feeling uncomfortable, you don’t really think about it when the game starts.”
Lundqvist made his 112th career playoff start on Saturday, a streak that was in jeopardy when he left Wednesday’s opener after the first period with an eye injury.
Lundqvist took an inadvertent stick to the eyehole from teammate Marc Staal. He reported swelling around his eye, but saw a specialist and practiced Friday before he was declared good to go for Saturday.
“There’s no excuses for not being ready,” Lundqvist said. “I feel like practice was good and right after I left the doctor’s office, I was prepared for the game.”
It showed too.
Phil Kessel opened the scoring for Pittsburgh with a slick power-play goal off the rush, but Keith Yandle, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider scored the next four, allowing the Rangers to take control and tie the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. Kessel scored another power-play goal in the third period, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.
Game 3 is Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“It’s a 1-1 series and I think we all know the back-and-forth that’s happened the past few years,” Lundqvist said. “It’s first to four. Whatever you’re feeling after a game, you have to put it aside because momentum can change so many times.
“It was important to answer back, but it’s a tied series.”
Malkin played for the first time since March 11 when he injured his elbow. Malkin, the Penguins’ second-leading goal scorer with 27, has skated for several weeks and practiced Friday for the first time with the team before playing on Saturday.
Pittsburgh still managed to win 13 of 15 games without the former NHL MVP during a torrid March stretch that saw the Penguins finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the league.
They won the first game of the series on Wednesday without Malkin, but couldn’t extend it to a 2-0 advantage.
“Obviously, when a player spends that much time on the sidelines, it’s tough to simulate game intensity and a game-like environment in a practice environment,” Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought for the most part, he was making plays out there. Was it what I expected, sure it was.”
Jeff Zatkoff got his second career playoff start while Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray remain sidelined with concussions. Fleury, who has 53 career playoff victories, has practiced with the team throughout the week.
Zatkoff, who made 35 saves Wednesday for his first career playoff win, started consecutive NHL games for the second time in his career. The first came earlier this season in December when Fleury suffered his initial concussion.
Zatkoff stopped Derek Stepan on a breakaway during a scoreless first period and denied Rick Nash on a partial breakaway to start the second, but the Rangers took control later in the period.
“Obviously, I would’ve liked to make a couple more saves, for sure at least one more to keep it a one-goal game because it’s tough to come back from 4-1,” Zatkoff said.
Kessel opened the scoring soon after with a power-play goal that came from a Rangers’ short-handed chance.
Nick Bonino drove to the net off the rush and dished a backhand pass to Trevor Daley, who tapped the puck to Kessel in the slot for the goal.
The Rangers jumped in front later in the period with goals scored 18 seconds apart.
J.T. Miller controlled the puck in the corner off the faceoff in the Pittsburgh zone and sent it to the far post where Yandle pinched from his defensive position and tied the game.
Olli Maatta had trouble handling a bouncing puck on the Rangers’ second goal, allowing Brassard a partial breakaway where he beat Zatkoff low and to the blocker side.
Lundqvist stopped the returning Bryan Rust on a breakaway soon after, giving the Rangers the opportunity to take a two-goal lead.
Miller sent a cross-ice pass to the far post where Zuccarello buried a shot behind Zatkoff to make it a 3-1 game.
Kreider scored the Rangers’ fourth goal 39 seconds into the third period, beating Zatkoff to the glove hand following a turnover by Daley.
“I think for the most part it was a pretty even hockey game and we had probably a five or six minute span in the second period where we lost some of the details of our game,” Sullivan said.
“When our team is at its best, we’ve been defending really well. I think a couple of the goals were uncharacteristic of this group.”
NOTES: Kessel has 24 points in 24 career playoff games. … Malkin and Sidney Crosby surpassed Tom Barrasso for fourth on the team’s all-time postseason games played list with 102. … Lundqvist started every Rangers playoff game since April 26, 2006. … Stepan played his 82nd career playoff game with the Rangers tying him for sixth on the team’s all-time list with Brian Leetch.