PITTSBURGH (AP)—Losing a three-goal lead was bad enough, losing the game was worse still. If they lose the series, this one will be very hard for the New York Rangers to forget.
Especially losing to a Kid some of them believe is as good an actor as he is a hockey player, and that must mean Sidney Crosby is the Brad Pitt of Pittsburgh.
A combination of the Penguins’ youthful determination and the Rangers’ inability to keep playing the way they did in building a 3-0 lead led to a 5-4 Pittsburgh comeback victory Friday night in their second-round playoff series opener, one that puts substantial pressure on the Rangers going into Game 2 on Sunday.
Pressure, the Rangers know—after all, they play in New York, where regular-season losses are dissected the way Game 7s are in most cities. What they couldn’t handle in Game 1 was the relentless offensive pressure applied by the Penguins’ Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who scored only one goal between them but somehow figured in nearly every one.
The game winner with less than two minutes remaining was a power-play goal created by a Martin Straka penalty for interfering with Crosby. Crosby’s slap shot from beyond the right circle skipped off Malkin’s shin and into the net, a lucky bounce Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist couldn’t possibly prevent.
Petr Sykora, the former Devils forward who has played in far more playoff games since 2000 than any other Penguins player, knows all about tough losses like this—he was on the 2001 New Jersey team that couldn’t hold a 3-2 Stanley Cup finals lead to Colorado. He doesn’t expect it will rattle the Rangers, who have playoff veterans such as Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan and a season-long knack for perseverance.
“When you win you don’t get too high in the playoffs, when you lose you don’t get too low. You put it behind you and focus on the next game,” Sykora said Saturday. “A loss is a loss, it doesn’t matter how it happens.”
Or does it? After the game, coach Tom Renney and several Rangers, including Brendan Shanahan, suggested Sid the Kid may have done some acting to draw a penalty Renney clearly disliked. Crosby’s perceived tendency to help himself draw such fouls was one of Renney’s topics during the usual pre-series meeting with the supervisor of officials.
That innuendo clearly upset Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who has heard these complaints before about the NHL’s biggest star and is losing patience with them.
“Enough is enough—that’s enough,” Therrien said Saturday. “What I’m kind of disappointed about, there was gamesmanship before the series about Sidney drawing penalties. This is a star player that plays in traffic, a powerful skater. When a star player like this goes into traffic and plays in traffic, well, he’s going to draw penalties. We all know what Tom Renney was trying to do.”
Of course, no NHL coach would ever suggest the officials not call penalties that occur against an opponent’s star player, would he?
“I’m kind of disappointed he (Renney) complained about it,” Therrien said.
The Penguins said it made no sense for Crosby to try to embellish the penalty because it probably prevented one of the game’s most dangerous players on open ice from going on a 2-on-1 break.
Renney wouldn’t be drawn Saturday into an argument about Crosby’s on-ice habits, trying instead to get the focus back on what now becomes a very important Game 2.
“It’s gone, and we can’t do anything about it,” Renney said.
For all of the does-Sidney-embellish or doesn’t he debate—the Philadelphia Flyers were the first team to make the accusation two years ago—the Rangers know they can’t win is if they try to get into another up-and-down game with the Penguins.
Twice, Pittsburgh used its speed and creativity to score two goals within a span of 20 seconds, against a team that limited to Penguins to one or no goals three times during the season.
Speed creates mistakes, which might explain why the Rangers made more in 1 1/2 periods, after they built that 3-0 lead, than they usually do during a weeklong road trip.
“We can’t get in a track meet with those guys,” Scott Gomez said.
Both teams shared in one complaint, about the soft ice Friday on a nearly 80-degree day—even with every air conditioning unit in 47-year-old Mellon Arena going full tilt. Dan Craig, in charge of the ice at many major NHL events, will fly in to see if the ice can be improved.