NEW YORK — Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin scored 5:58 into the third overtime to defeat the Rangers 4-3 on Tuesday night in a wild Game 1 of their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
It was a contest that featured an all-time performance by Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin and a stunning relief effort from Penguins counterpart Louis Domingue.
Shesterkin made 79 saves for the Rangers, the second-most in a Stanley Cup playoffs game. He was closing in on Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo’s 2020 record of 85 saves against the Tampa Bay Lightning when Malkin tipped home a point shot from Penguins defenseman John Marino.
“[Igor] played great. Both goalies were really good,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Actually, all three goalies were good.”
The game took an odd turn in the second overtime.
Penguins starter Casey DeSmith walked off the ice through the Zamboni door 9:07 into the session. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that DeSmith had a lower-body injury. He had played exceptionally well to that point, making 48 saves.
Domingue, his backup, saw DeSmith come to the bench. The on-ice officials informed Domingue that he was entering the game.
“I honestly thought they were joking with me, when they were saying that I have to go in,” he said. “It’s crazy. But that’s my life. It’s hockey.”
Domingue is in his eighth NHL season. The 30-year-old journeyman was signed in September 2021 by the Penguins as a free agent and appeared in just two games for Pittsburgh this season — the last a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on April 24. To say he didn’t expect to enter the game would be an understatement.
Domingue admitted he wasn’t “engaged all the time” while watching the action on the bench. Between the first and second overtimes, Domingue ate a bowl of spicy pork and broccoli, which was intended for a postgame meal for the team.
“It’s not great,” he said.
DeSmith got the Game 1 start because Tristan Jarry is unavailable for the first two games of this series, at a minimum. He last played April 14, and then was sidelined with a broken foot. Despite being ice cold, Domingue made 14 saves in the second overtime and then three more in the third before Malkin won it.
“It was a lot coming at me fast, but it’s something you prepare for as a backup. You’ve gotta be ready at all times,” Domingue said. “Casey gave us a hell of a chance to win that game.”
According to the Rangers, it was the longest NHL game ever played at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers dominated early, taking a 1-0 lead on defenseman Adam Fox’s power-play goal at 9:19 of the first period. The Rangers grew the lead to 2-0 on an Andrew Copp goal at 3:08 of the second period.
The Penguins came alive in the second period, putting New York on its toes thanks to an effective forecheck. Sidney Crosby set up Jake Guentzel twice for goals to tie the score.
But the Rangers struck back on a short-handed goal by Chris Kreider, only to see the Penguins tie it again on that power play thanks to a precision passing play from Kris Letang to Malkin to Bryan Rust — incidentally, all unrestricted free agents after the season.
Game 1 didn’t lack for controversy.
The Rangers received only one power play in the game. The Penguins lost forward Rickard Rakell to an upper-body injury in the first period on a hit by Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren. It was originally called a major penalty, but was reviewed down to a minor penalty for roughing.
Sullivan said that Rakell is out and was being evaluated after the game.
As for an explanation for the reduction of the penalty, Sullivan added: “I’m not going to share it publicly. I guess in their view it wasn’t a major.”
The most controversial moment came late in the third period, on an apparent goal that could have ended the game before the marathon overtimes. With 3:10 left in the third period, the Rangers appeared to take a 4-3 lead on a goal by center Filip Chytil. He tucked the puck into an abandoned net, as DeSmith was taken out of his crease on a collision that included both Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko and Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who trailed behind him.
The Penguins coaches watched the replay on a monitor at the bench and decided to challenge for goalie interference. It was a gamble; if the challenge failed, not only would the Rangers have the lead, but the Penguins would also have been given a minor penalty for delay of game. That theoretically could have left them short-handed until there was just 1:10 left in the period.
The officials watched the replay and conferred. Their decision: The call on the ice was overturned and there was no goal scored on the play.
The explanation from the NHL situation room said: “Video review determined New York’s Kaapo Kakko impaired Casey DeSmith’s ability to play his position in the crease prior to Filip Chytil’s goal. The decision was made in accordance with Rule 69.1 which states, in part, ‘Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal.'”
There’s a provision in the goalie interference rule that if an attacking player “has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper,” that contact will not be considered as initiated by the attacking player as long as that player made a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact.
While Dumoulin was leaning on Kakko, the officials clearly felt that he didn’t make a reasonable effort to avoid contact with DeSmith.
“To me, it was a 50-50 call, and I felt it was going to go against us. I can’t argue with that,” Gallant said.
Game 2 of this suddenly epic series is Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Sullivan said that DeSmith is day-to-day and would not commit to Domingue starting that game for the Penguins. But if he does, it would just continue the dream for the NHL veteran.
“You dream about that your whole life. You’re playing in overtime in the playoffs, are you kidding me?” Domingue said. “You’d think that you’d be nervous going into a situation like that, but it was just fun for me.”