The Rangers returned to the playoffs this season for the first time in five years thanks to a great regular season, one in which they piled up 52 wins, just missed winning a division title, and earned themselves home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
All of which means little today, after their first playoff game at Madison Square Garden went to three overtimes and ended in defeat Tuesday when Evgeny Malkin’s deflection of a John Marino shot gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 victory over the Rangers in Game 1 of the teams’ first-round playoff series.
Malkin’s goal put the Penguins ahead 1-0 in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Thursday at the Garden.
“It was one of those games that was back and forth, and there were a lot of shots,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said afterward. “It’s nobody’s fault. Everybody played hard.’’
Nobody played harder for the Rangers than goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who was playing in his first actual NHL playoff game, and kept the Rangers in the game despite facing immense pressure. Shesterkin made a franchise-record 79 saves in a losing effort.
“He’s done it all year,’’ Rangers forward Ryan Strome said of Shesterkin. “He’s our best player. And he showed it tonight … We couldn’t get one for him, obviously, [but] we know he’s going to be good for us every game.’’
The Penguins won despite having to start their backup goaltender, Casey DeSmith, because of an injury to their No. 1 goalie, Tristan Jarry, and then DeSmith himself had to leave the game with some sort of injury of his own.
With 10:42 left in the second overtime, DeSmith signaled to the referee who stopped play while he went to the Pittsburgh bench and consulted with the team athletic trainer. He then left the game, having made 48 saves.
Louis Domingue, the Penguins’ third-string goaltender, entered the game at that point, and earned the win, stopping all 17 shots he saw from the Rangers.
Mika Zibanejad said the Rangers wanted to test Domingue, who didn’t get to warm up before entering the game, and they took two shots on him in the first 10 seconds.
“It’s still a good goalie, but it’s probably tough situation to come in,’’ Zibanejad said. “And we just tried to, you know, maybe put some more pucks at the net, and try to get some traffic … Unfortunately, we didn’t get one.’’
The Rangers started off in hard-hitting, dominant fashion in the first period, but couldn’t build more than a 1-0 lead, on an Adam Fox power-play goal, despite an early shot advantage against DeSmith. And the game turned in the second, as the Penguins outshot the Rangers 25-8 in the middle period. Still, Shesterkin was brilliant in the period and the Rangers were fortunate to withstand two goals from Jake Guentzel and one from Bryan Rust in the period to get to the second intermission tied 3-3, thanks to a goal from Andrew Copp and a shorthanded goal by Chris Kreider.
Then they appeared to take a 4-3 lead with 3:10 remaining in regulation time on a goal by Filip Chytil, who fired the puck into a vacated net after it was passed to him by a sliding Kaapo Kakko. But the Rangers’ joy was short-lived. Pittsburgh challenged the goal, arguing that Kakko had run into and interfered with DeSmith on the play, and after a relatively brief video review, the goal was disallowed.
Afterward, the Rangers didn’t spend any time bemoaning the ruling by the NHL’s Situation Room.
“Obviously, you want those calls to go your way,’’ Strome said. “I mean, you know, game happens so fast. Obviously, he’s not trying to run in the goalie or anything, and I thought it was a call that could go either way.
“It’s probably a 50-50 call and they got it this time.’’
Defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who left Friday’s regular season-ending 3-2 win over Washington with what appeared to be a left ankle injury, did not finish the game. The 24-year-old missed most of the third period, and the Rangers played with five defensemen until he returned just before the end of regulation time. He played the first two overtime periods, but then did not return to the bench for the third OT.
After the game, Gallant didn’t have much of a report on Lindgren, other than to say he will know more about his status on Wednesday.