Pittsburgh pens thriller

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, right, celebrates teammate Marian Hossa’s goal as New York...

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, right, celebrates teammate Marian Hossa’s goal as New York Rangers’ Scott Gomez, left, skates away during the third period of Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff hockey series in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 25, 2008..(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- How in the world do you fall asleep in an arena full of 17,152 screaming fans, all wearing white shirts, all waving white towels, all mocking you at every opportunity?

Just ask the Rangers, who wasted an opportunity to steal the opener in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final vs. the Penguins.

The visitors blew a 3-0 lead by briefly snoozing in both the second and third periods, lapses that allowed the Pens to score goals 14 seconds apart, then 40 seconds apart to take a 4-3 lead.

After Scott Gomez tied the score, Sidney Crosby's one-timer banked in off Evgeni Malkin's shin pad with just 1:41 remaining in regulation to give the Pens the electrifying 5-4 win.

"We never quit," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "This is a great accomplishment for that young group to be able to bounce back against at a team like the Rangers who are really committed defensively."

'TOO LOOSE'

Malkin's goal came with the Rangers' Martin Straka in the penalty box serving an interference penalty.

"We just got too loose," said Rangers centre Chris Drury. "We haven't been that loose all year. But that team, with all their firepower, they'll make you pay."

This series could go down as one to remember if Game 2 tomorrow is anywhere near as entertaining as last night's opener.

The Penguins started strongly, but didn't get rewarded. Malkin, Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora all had excellent early chances, only to be turned away by ever-composed Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

As is often the case when one goalie stands on his head, his team goes against the flow of play to score.

Sure enough, the Rangers did exactly that, opening the scoring at 13:40 thanks to a power-play goal by Straka, whose cross-ice feed went in off the skate of Pens defenceman Sergei Gonchar.

That deflection -- four of the nine goals were off skates -- set a tone for the night.

Lundqvist stopped 21-of-26 shots while Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves on 24 shots.

Neither was sharp, but they weren't exactly catching many breaks.

"I thought Fleury was good," said Therrien. "It was a tough game not only for Marc-Andre but also Lundqvist. Lundqvist gave up five goals tonight but he looked good. There were fluky goals on both sides."

The Rangers went up 3-0 early in the second. Chris Drury scored at 1:52, showing the baseball skills of a guy who, in fact, had competed in the 1989 Little League World Series.

Standing in the high slot, Drury swatted a puck out of the air that totally caught Fleury off-guard.

Less than two minutes later, Sean Avery whizzed down the right wing before snapping a shot that Fleury normally would have stopped.

TOO TALENTED

But these Pens are far too talented to go down without a fight.

Sure enough, they struck quickly for a pair of goals midway through the period. Jarkko Ruutu banked in a centring feed off the skate of Michal Rozsival at 8:13.

Then Pascal Dupuis ripped home a one-timer at 8:27 while the Ruutu goal was still being announced.

That deficit didn't last long, either with Marian Hossa and Sykora connecting 40 seconds apart, giving the hosts their first lead of the game by the five-minute mark of the third.

"Those bang-bang goals are tough -- especially for the road team," said Drury. "The crowd is going crazy... It's a huge swing."

But just when everyone in the rink figured the Rangers had choked, Gomez blasted a centring feed from Jagr past Fleury at 10:04, which set upthe late Crosby-Malkin heroics.


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