PITTSBURGH - History took a backseat to the present Friday night.
The New York Rangers, who have had little success against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, opened their Eastern Conference semifinal with a 3-2 overtime victory at the Consol Energy Center.
It’s just the fifth time in 21 post-season games involving both clubs that the Rangers have skated off a happy bunch at the end of the game. That was guaranteed when Derick Brassard scored at 3:13 of the extra period.
As the Penguins scrambled, Brassard picked the top corner over Marc-Andre Fleury’s right shoulder for the winner.
The Penguins never have lost a playoff series against the Rangers, winning all four, most recently in 2008. They had erased a 2-0 Rangers lead but now must win at home Sunday to avoid heading to Manhattan down two games in the best-of-seven series.
There was a brief reunion of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz on a line for the Penguins, but coach Dan Bylsma didn’t stick with the trio, despite the success it had in the final two games of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Crosby has not scored in 12 consecutive playoff games, going back to last spring. Overall, he has scored just two goals in 17 games (seven playoff and 10 regular season) since March 22. Both of those goals came in a game on March 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lee Stempniak and James Neal scored for the Penguins.
Benoit Pouliot and Brad Richards also scored for the Rangers. Rick Nash is paid to score goals, but he has gone 11 playoff games in a row without one.
Neither team could score on the power play in regulation, despite having four chances aside. The Rangers have not gotten a goal in their past 25 power plays.
Both netminders were sharp with the glove in the third period. Fleury snared a Derek Stepan shot, leaving the Rangers forward muttering to himself, and a few minutes later Henrik Lundqvist caught a Malkin drive from the high slot.
Pittsburgh’s Joe Vitale, meanwhile, hit the post.
The Penguins didn’t score on a couple of power plays early in the second period — they came close when Olli Maatta rang a slapshot off the goal post — but they carried the momentum after having the man advantage and scored a pair to tie the game.
Beau Bennett had the puck inside the Rangers blueline and drew attention away from Stempniak before dropping it for his teammate. Stempniak got past several Rangers and scored on a backhand at 7:15.
The Rangers couldn’t reverse the flow and Neal’s goal was ruled to count, following a review. Neal’s shot from the point was stopped by Lundqvist, and the puck went straight up into the air and fell behind the goaltender and into the net.
Malkin just happened to be cruising past, and Lundqvist thought Malkin touched the puck with a high stick. But there was no contact between Malkin’s lumber and the puck, and the goal stood.
The first period went about as terribly as it could have for the Penguins, who were disorganized, didn’t get a shot on Lundqvist until seven minutes had passed and fell behind 2-0.
We had to check to remind ourselves that indeed it was the Penguins, and not the Rangers, who were rested after not having played since Monday, and that it was the Rangers playing for the third time in four nights.
That’s how out of sync the Penguins were.
Pouliot opened the scoring at 5:04 after picking up the puck in the Rangers’ end and taking it to the offensive zone, where he beat Fleury with a long wrist shot. The puck went under Fleury’s right arm, and it was a shot he should have stopped.
The Rangers increased their lead to 2-0 late in the period on a play that exposed the Penguins’ defence pair of 19-year-old Maatta and Matt Niskanen.
Maatta was checked off the puck in the corner by Carl Hagelin, a play that caught the attention of Niskanen. Unfortunately, Niskanen was distracted to the point that he vacated the front of the net, and when Richards got Hagelin’s pass, he had time to go to his forehand from his backhand and score on a shot along the ice.