Kevin Hayes (r.) and Carl Hagelin celebrate Hayes’ overtime winner in a 2-1 win Wednesday that gives the Rangers a 3-1 series lead.
PITTSBURGH — The Rangers finally have a chance to close out a series early, but nobody knows better than them that no lead is safe.
Rookie Kevin Hayes scored at 3:14 of overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 win Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal. All four games in the series have been one-goal contests. Martin St. Louis played the puck to Carl Hagelin from behind the net, and on a scramble Maxim Lapierre tried to clear the puck, but it slid under a sprawled out Marc-Andre Fleury and directly to Hayes at the left post.
The NHL’s best regular-season road team won two straight in this building in which they’ve dominated for the last year. The Rangers now have a 4-12 record with one-game series leads since the start of the 2012 playoffs.
Now, though, the Rangers will recall what happened last year against the same Pittsburgh team in the second-round, when the Penguins were the ones holding a 3-1 series lead, only for the Rangers to win three straight do-or-die games to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
Derick Brassard scored the Rangers first goal and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves.
The first period was a complete reversal from the opening period in Monday’s Game 3, when the Rangers dominated, took a lead and held the Penguins to just three shot. On Wednesday, it was Pittsburgh that vastly outplayed the Rangers, winning battles, pressuring the defense and limiting the Rangers’ to a measly two shots on goal, tied for second-lowest in a period this season, while the Penguins had eight. The only time the Rangers registered fewer shots on goal in a period this season was the third period of a Feb. 22 4-3 shootout win against the Blue Jackets.
Ryan McDonagh (c.) checks Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist (r.) from in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The Penguins scored just 2:22 into the game when Ben Lovejoy’s shot was sent into a bundle of bodies in front of net and deflected by Patric Hornqvist, sending the puck between Henrik Lundqvist’s legs. It was Hornqvist’s second goal in as many games and it marked the first time in the series the Rangers did not score first. Each team went 0-for-3 on the power play, with the Rangers firing off just one shot on net during their second man-advantage.
There were a few brief scuffles and a few crunching hits over the first 20 minutes. Dominic Moore earned a roughing call late in the first period when he hit Maxim Lapierre near the head right by the benches. Lapierre initially appeared shaken up but remained in the game.
The Rangers came out in the second period with much more attacking intent. At 6:55 Kevin Hayes had the Rangers’ best chance up to that point when he found himself all alone in the slot but shot the puck wide left. He was credited with a shot on goal because Marc-Andre Fleury (22 saves) got a piece of the puck, but the shot was always going wide.
Less than two minutes later, Mats Zuccarello’s shot from near the right boards was saved and Matt Hunwick’s rebound right in front of net was also saved. Suddenly the Rangers had real life on offense. At 9:35 Hayes fired another shot which Fleury swallowed. Forty-five seconds later, Carl Hagelin used his blistering speed on a breakout to push the puck past Ian Cole into the offensive zone and sent a cross-ice pass to an open Martin St. Louis, whose shot from just inside the right circle was gobbled up by Fleury. At 16:20 J.T. Miller fed Chris Kreider on the rush, but his right-circle shot went wide left.
Finally the Rangers broke through at 17:15 when Brassard poked in a puck sitting next to the right post. Zuccarello’s entry pass to Ryan McDonagh began a play which saw Rick Nash feed McDonagh for a shot that was saved and left idle at the post. Nash’s third assist is his team-high fourth point of the playoffs, and McDonagh notched his second assist.
Dan Boyle nearly put the Rangers ahead with 1:54 left in the period with a spinning shot right in front of net but Fleury was up to the task. The Rangers outshot Pittsburgh 13-8 in the period.
With five minutes left in an even third, Nash was robbed by Fleury on an open shot from the slot. Less than 30 seconds later, Brassard fed Zuccarello on a 2-on-1, but Zuccarello couldn’t get a shot off.
Lundqvist came out for a poke check on Hornqvist with 38 seconds left in regulation which left an open net and the puck unattended, but Dan Girardi cleared out the danger.
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