Game 2 preview from Pittsburgh . . . A marathon series?
PITTSBURGH -- After the Rangers morning skate today, Martin St. Louis, in a jacket and tie, was running toward the team bus.
Outside CONSOL Energy Center, weary finishers in the Pittsburgh Marathon were walking to their car or homes, wrapped in blankets.
When St. Louis was told that the marathon was over, St. Louis breezed by and responded: “It’s just starting.”
For the Rangers, that is certainly true. After tonight’s Game 2, the Rangers were flying to New York for Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday, their sixth playoff game in nine nights, and would then prepare for Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
Among the streaks that the Rangers were hoping to end on Sunday: They had lost seven straight Game 2s, they have fumbled nine straight chances to take a two-game lead in a series and they have lost an NHL record 12 games in a row when leading a series.
With a 3-2 overtime win on Friday here, “it’s a great opportunity we put ourselves in,” said Rick Nash. “We need a big night tonight; we know how important it is to go back home with two wins.”
It also is another chance for Nash, who had 26 goals in the regular season, to score his first of this postseason.
“It’s disappointing that I can’t help the team win, but if you’re not scoring goals, you have to help in other ways,” he said. “But it’s definitely frustrating not being able to score.” His line, with Derek Stepan and St. Louis, “had some great chances last game,” Nash said. “It’s close, but this time of year close doesn’t really matter; we need to be finishing our opportunities.”
For the Penguins, the man who hasn’t finished is captain Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL in points. He has six assists, but no goals in 12 playoff games dating back to last year, and is rumored to be playing through an injury.
Pens coach Dan Bylsma believes Crosby is putting pressure on himself. “You’d be crazy to think that a player like Sidney Crosby doesn’t think about it,” Byslma said this morning. “He’d like to have a goose egg not there, but it’s all about winning...It’s tough sledding, they’re playing defense above and below him. But I expect him to be at his best tonight.”
The Rangers sprung out to a 2-goal lead in the first period on Friday, when the Penguins, who finished second in the Eastern Conference, didn’t seem to have enough jump. They tied the game in the second, but Derick Brassard won it with a wrister at 3:06 of overtime.
"We should not be waiting for the situation to dictate our desperation,” said Crosby. “We have to play desperate right from the start."
Bylsma also was hoping that the Penguins played well early, even if their performance didn’t include scoring first. “In the playoffs, three of our four wins, we didn’t score first…I think it’s more important that we have a good five minutes.”
Henrik Lundqvist, who made 34 saves in a sharp 60 minutes on Friday, said he would be aware of Crosby’s presence, but not to the point of ignoring other weapons. “They have a lot of other players who have scored big goals,” said Lundqvist, who was starting his 76th consecutive playoff game, “so you can’t just focus on one.”
But there was no doubt that the teams expected a long series. “There’s a lot more on the line than in the last series,” when the Rangers edged the Flyers in Game 7,” said Brian Boyle. “We’re not worried how much we dislike the other team, that doesn’t go into our game plan. They want to even it up, there’s an opportunity for us. It’s just Game 2, that’s all it is: Be ready for their best.”