PITTSBURGH – When Henrik Lundqvist took teammate Marc Staal’s stick in the right eye late in the first period of Game 1 on Wednesday night, everything changed for the worse.
In a blink, the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist scored the first of his three goals, and an injured Lundqvist was replaced by backup Antti Raanta, making his NHL postseason debut, a 5-2 loss at CONSOL Energy Center that opened this first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with a thud.
“He’ll be reevaluated tomorrow (Thursday),” Alain Vigneault said of Lundqvist, who at least did not require a mid-game hospital visit. “I’ll have more news tomorrow.”
But the Blueshirts couldn’t use their goalie’s absence as an excuse. That wasn’t all that did them in.
It took them 43-plus minutes and a two-man advantage to beat third-string Pens goalie Jeff Zatkoff (35 saves) in his own NHL postseason debut, starting for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.
Henrik Lundqvist goes down after he takes an inadvertent stick to the eye from teammate Marc Staal.
The Rangers then squandered a comeback attempt from a 2-0 deficit by surrendering Tom Kuhnhackl’s shorthanded goal 5:31 into the third period, pushing the Penguins’ lead to 3-1.
Derek Stepan (two goals) scored 3:10 into the third on a 5-on-3 to make it 2-1, answering Sidney Crosby’s late second-period breakaway rip over Raanta’s left shoulder.
But several Ranger errors allowed Kuhnhackl’s goal on a 2-on-1 feed from Bonino. After the game, Vigneault freely cited the miscues: Rick Nash gave a cursory wave at Kris Letang’s outlet pass and changed as the chance developed; Dan Boyle didn’t move to get back, J.T. Miller lost focus; Keith Yandle misplayed the pass.
“That was definitely a turning point in the game,” the coach said. “We were fighting back. We had good pressure. The puck ended up in the corner, and we had two players who didn’t take a stride to come back, and obviously (Yandle) didn’t play that two-on-one the way he’s supposed to. He’s supposed to have that pass, and it ended up in the back of our net and made our comeback even harder.”
Lundqvist is attended to by the Rangers training staff after the injury.
The Rangers had a 41-3-3 record in the regular season when allowing two or fewer goals in regulation or overtime and a 5-24-6 mark when giving up three or more. Kuhnhackl’s goal was the backbreaker. Hornqvist then scored in the crease for his second of the night and a 4-1 Pittsburgh lead. The Ranger killer added an empty-netter to send hats showering to the ice after Stepan’s second of the game from Boyle and Chris Kreider.
Hornqivst finished with four points. Crosby had a goal and two assists.
Vigneault had “quite a few guys that need to play better,” while the Penguins’ top players ran rampant.
“What stings is we talked about doing a job on their top line and we didn’t get the job done against them,” Stepan said. “We can’t give up five goals and expect to win a playoff game.”
Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist slips the puck past Lundqvist for the first of his three goals.
Game 2 is Saturday at 3 p.m. in Pittsburgh before the series goes back to New York.
Hornqivst’s hat trick was a nagging reminder, though, of a dubious distinction for this year’s Blueshirts. They surrendered four hat tricks over the previous five NHL seasons, per Elias Sports Bureau, before giving up four hat tricks in the first 57 games of this season to Edmonton’s Lauri Korpikoski, Washington’s Justin Williams, L.A.’s Anze Kopitar and Chicago’s Artemi Panarin.
The Rangers entered Game 1 confident as underdogs and outshot the Penguins 12-3 early, but they still lost a playoff game in this building for the first time since May 4, 2014, a 3-0 loss in Game 2 of the second-round series they would win in seven games. Vigneault’s team had been 4-0 in the playoffs at CONSOL Energy Center since, winning by a combined score of 11-4 with Lundqvist as their backbone.
Nothing is guaranteed now, after Lundqvist’s fluky yet frightening injury. With 48.2 seconds left in the scoreless first period, Staal was battling Pens rookie center Oskar Sundqvist for position when Staal’s stick blade inadvertently jabbed through Lundqvist’s mask, sending the goalie to the ice, writhing in pain.
Trainer Jim Ramsay appeared to treat Lundqvist’s right eye, but Lundqvist stayed in the game, surrendered Hornqvist’s first with 17.6 seconds left after Conor Sheary won a race with Dan Girardi, and then left for good.
“I felt my stick in his helmet,” Staal said. “I didn’t know where I got him, but anytime he goes out like that, and his legs are kicking, it’s not a good sign. Hopefully it’s something minor.”