Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
PITTSBURGH - There was Sidney Crosby, best player in the world, lying on his side in full repose in the crease, trying in vain to guard his own net as the Rangers scored the winner in overtime.
That summarizes how the Rangers wanted to play against Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and all the rest of the Penguins' bright stars: Make them defend, make them work without the puck and make them lose, given that defending is not Crosby's strong suit, or Malkin's.
So the Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory was a win in all regards, despite that blip in the second period when they allowed the Penguins some razzle-dazzle time.
The key word there, however, is "allowed." The Rangers did more dictating of the play than not in the 63:06 Friday night. That's how they win games, by outworking teams in their own end and then counter-attacking with their speed to catch opponents off guard.
"They're a great team, but we can control what we can control," said Dan Girardi, who teamed with Ryan McDonagh in shutting down Crosby whenever possible. "In the second, we let them play, we sat back and watched. When we do what we did in the first and third periods, we give ourselves a good chance to win."
Girardi and McDonagh did their usual yeoman work, but Game 1 was a night for a longtime Rangers stalwart on defense. Marc Staal and the underrated Anton Stralman got plenty of shifts against No. 87 in black and gold and were just as strong as, if not stronger than, the McDonagh-Girardi pair.
That included the winning OT shift, when Stralman helped keep the play moving below the goal line with a smart pinch and Rob Scuderi gave the puck away to Benoit Pouliot.
The rest of the night, Staal was standing up Crosby as quickly as possible, or someone on Malkin's line. Malkin, James Neal and Jussi Jokinen were really the Penguins leading the charge back in the second. Crosby, now having gone 12 consecutive playoff games without a goal (including all seven this postseason), had some moments, as he always does, but it was a muted night for him.
"In Marc's case, he has one of the best sticks in the league in terms of stick on puck and taking time and space away," Alain Vigneault said. "He did a good job gapping up on a guy who can really hurt you when he has that time and space."
Crosby did not hurt the Rangers. Malkin did on the tying goal, but that was only a 20-minute interlude of damage. The Rangers set the tone the rest of Game 1, and they obviously benefited from that with the victory.
But it's also a victory going forward. The Rangers cannot trade chances with the Penguins. They cannot get out of the smothering, boring style that got them to the postseason and then barely past the Flyers.
Unlike Philly, which could get down in the muck and mire with the Rangers, these Penguins are not built to grind. They love to wheel and deal, and they showed as much in the second.
"If we'd followed up the first, we could have had a real stranglehold on the game," Girardi said.
If they follow up Game 1 with a similar, fuller effort in Game 2, the Rangers might just put a stranglehold on this series. And the lasting image of Crosby splayed out helplessly in front of his own net could be the defining one for the Rangers.