Penguins Lucky to Be Leading Series Versus Rangers

The New York Rangers have been a thorn in the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ side all season. Although they only played each other four times – the first of which only came on Feb. 26 – the Rangers had the Penguins’ number. After that first regular-season meeting, a 1-0 Penguins victory, the Rangers won three straight, outscoring Pittsburgh 11-4 over four games. When they met in the playoffs, many (including myself) assumed it would be more of the same, given the Rangers’ dominance.

Louis Domingue Pittsburgh Penguins Mika Zibanejad New York Rangers
Louis Domingue of the Pittsburgh Penguins defends his net against Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Penguins pulled out to a surprising 1-0 series lead, but the Rangers tied the series in Game 2 with a 5-2 victory. Heading into Saturday’s game at PPG Paints Arena, things were looking alright for Sidney Crosby and company. Luckily, they stayed that way. Luckily, the Penguins have a series lead.

Penguins’ Goaltending a Concern After DeSmith Injury

Before the playoffs, head coach Mike Sullivan indicated that starting goaltender Tristan Jarry would remain out for the team’s first-round series and that backup Casey DeSmith would start in his place. Jarry hasn’t seen any action since April 14, and DeSmith had done an excellent job in helping the Penguins’ success, especially given the criticism he received in the past (including from yours truly). The Penguins went into Madison Square Garden on May 3 well aware that DeSmith would shoulder the load in the crease, but that plan was thrown out when DeSmith suffered a core muscle injury in the second overtime period of Game 1 and was forced to leave the game.

Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins
Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After Jarry’s injury, the backup’s backup goalie, journeyman Louis Domingue, was thrust into the spotlight. Prepared but not expecting to step into the blue paint at all, Domingue made 17 saves and held down the fort until Evgeni Malkin potted the winner at 5:58 of the third overtime period. The Mont-St-Hilaire, Québec native then started and earned the victory in Game 3, making 32 saves and receiving an ovation from the crowd (from “Long a Journeyman Backup, Suddenly a Star of the NHL Playoffs,” David Waldstein, The New York Times, 09/05/2022).

Related: Penguins Must Pull Out of Downward Spiral to Advance Past Rangers

Despite his recent playoff success, Domingue’s consistency is questionable. If you look up ‘journeyman’ in the dictionary, you will see his picture. He played for four teams in the past two seasons, seeing extremely limited game action. From 2020-21 to now, he played in only 3 games. Before that, he was backing up some of the best goaltenders in the world, as he did for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2019. His limited game experience, coupled with the Rangers’ firepower, may be cause for concern should Jarry encounter a setback in his rehab.

Penguins Hold On, But Danger Lurks

If Game 1 demonstrated anything about the Penguins, it was that they have the ability to match up with the Rangers even as the circumstances became less and less desirable. Game 3, despite the end result, demonstrated the opposite. Out of the gate, the Penguins were flying. They rocketed to a 4-1 lead before the first period was over and seemed poised for a dominant victory. Something changed in the second period, and the Rangers scored three goals – one shorthanded – in seven minutes to claw back to a tie game before a late Penguins surge put the game away.

Andrew Copp potted the tying goal on what seemed to be the culmination of an (almost) historic collapse. While on the man advantage, Penguins defenceman Kris Letang attempted a poorly-timed outlet pass that was broken up by Rangers forward Kevin Rooney. In an attempt to recover, Letang lost his stick, and Rooney was able to get a shot off, resulting in a huge rebound that Copp whacked into the open cage as Domingue was out of the crease and hung to dry. In what has otherwise been a fantastic year for Letang, that particular play will be a black mark. Luckily, Domingue and the penalty kill stepped up big time late in the game and kept the Rangers off the scoresheet the rest of the contest, while Danton Heinen was able to score the game-winning goal at 11:02 of the third period.

Andrew Copp New York Rangers
New York Rangers’ forward Andrew Copp scored the game-tying goal shorthanded. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite the victory, much of the latter part of Game 3 was characterized by long periods of sustained Rangers pressure and an inordinate amount of Blueshirts power-play time, meaning the Penguins need to do a much better at disciplining themselves. Allowing the Rangers to take control in Game 4 or in Game 5 at the World’s Most Famous Arena will most likely spell doom for the boys from the ‘Burgh.

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