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Rangers take early lead and hold on to win Game 1 over Penguins

Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers celebrates

Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers celebrates his first-period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with teammates during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, April 16, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers drew first blood in Game 1 against the Penguins, but it wasn't easy.

Derick Brassard scored 28 seconds into the game, Ryan McDonagh added to the lead later in the first period and the Rangers, behind Henrik Lundqvist, hung on for a 2-1 victory Thursday night at the Garden.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be played Saturday night.

Lundqvist (24 saves), who finished the season 5-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average after returning from a vascular injury in his neck, stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period to preserve the lead as the Rangers became prone to turnovers.

Marc-Andre Fleury kept the Penguins in it with 25 stops in the final two periods and 36 overall.

"It's one step and one game," said McDonagh, who scored the winning goal in a playoff game for the first time in his career and played a team-high 25:36. "We'll have some things to look at and try to get better. We got away from our structure a little bit in the second. It starts with making sure we're better with puck decisions and taking the goalie's eyes away. But you get the nerves out, you get the hits and bumps going."

The Rangers -- who are the No. 1 seed in the postseason -- played the final 9:29 with five defensemen. After Chris Kunitz raced down the left boards, his hard pass attempt came up off Dan Girardi's stick and caught Girardi in the jaw. He went off, under his own power, to the locker room and did not return.

Alain Vigneault said Girardi -- who had a team-high six blocks -- will visit the dentist Friday. There was no immediate word about his status.

"All the waiting and getting ready for the playoffs, getting the first one helps us to get going in the right direction," said Keith Yandle, who played a postseason game as a Ranger for the first time. He set up McDonagh's goal at 15:16 of the first.

The Rangers were 1-for-5 on the power play, but Yandle thought they "did a good job" against the NHL's third-best penalty-killers. "During the playoffs, teams are going to be diving and blocking shots. So we just have to keep shooting," he said.

The Rangers didn't let their five-day layoff affect them.

After Fleury stopped Rick Nash's slap shot, Brassard raced in to bury the rebound 28 seconds into the game. It was the second-fastest goal by a Ranger in the playoffs. Ed Hospodar scored at 27 seconds in Game 2 of the first round on April 9, 1981, in Los Angeles.

Beginning with the 2012-13 season, Brassard leads all Rangers in playoff points with 25.

"He shot for a rebound," Brassard said of Nash. "I was just driving to the net and got a bounce. I was just really excited to get us going. I thought we played a really solid game. We used our speed, we cycled the puck, we were playing around the net, the way we talked about it."

His goal was exactly the curtain-raiser the Rangers needed against the Penguins, who committed four penalties in the first 20 minutes. That kept skilled center Sidney Crosby off the ice for all but 3:42.

In the second period, after five minutes of forechecking and five saves by Fleury, the Penguins cut the lead in half. Dan Boyle tangled with Maxim Lapierre in front and former Islander Blake Comeau beat Brassard to a loose puck and found the far side of the net at 6:15.

But that was all they could get off Lundqvist. "It's always important to build in a series," he said. "It was definitely a good start."

New York Sports