Veteran goalies take center stage for Rangers, Penguins
PITTSBURGH (AP) So much for Henrik Lundqvist not being able to beat the Montreal Canadiens. Ditto with Marc-Andre Fleury's most important games with the Pittsburgh Penguins being in his rearview mirror.
Welcome to the 2017 playoffs, same as it ever was for two goaltenders who know a thing or two about what it takes this time of year.
Lundqvist turned aside all 31 shots he saw in New York's 2-0 victory over Montreal on Wednesday night to beat the Canadiens for the first time this season as the Rangers stole home ice with a 2-0 Game 1 victory. Fleury made 31 saves of his own Pittsburgh's 3-1 triumph in its series opener against Columbus after being thrust into the lineup minutes before the opening faceoff when Matt Murray suffered a lower-body injury during warmups.
On Friday night, Lundqvist and Fleury - they of the combined 228 career playoff appearances - can give their teams 2-0 leads in their respective series if they can summon a bit of the old magic once again. In Minnesota, St. Louis can go up 2-0 on Minnesota if 26-year-old Jake Allen can keep it going after making a career-high 51 stops in an overtime upset, while in Edmonton the young Oilers didn't exactly look playoff tested as San Jose roared back from an early two-goal deficit to top Connor McDavid and company 3-2.
Murray skipped practice on Thursday and is out indefinitely, meaning Fleury will make consecutive postseason starts for the first time 2015. He lost his starting job this season to Murray, who helped the Penguins to a fourth Stanley Cup last spring when Fleury went down late in the regular season with a concussion.
A year later, the roles have suddenly reversed. Not that Fleury wants to think about it. He spent all season dealing with talk about his imminent departure only to stick with the only team NHL team he's ever known. Now the Penguins need him as much as ever with Game 2 coming up Friday (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).
''Playoffs are long and a lot can happen,'' Fleury said. ''Like anybody else on a team, everybody has to stay sharp through the process.''
Still, Fleury admitted some jitters after being told Murray was out.
The same goes for Lundqvist, who couldn't wait for a shot at redemption after the worst regular season of his career.
''You know the importance goes up, the urgency goes up,'' Lundqvist said. ''I had butterflies for two days, been thinking about this every hour the last week, to get going, get started.''
Blues at Wild, St. Louis leads 1-0 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
The Minnesota Wild couldn't have produced a more relentless attack against St. Louis in Game 1, only to have goalie Jake Allen deny them again and again during a 2-1 overtime victory by the Blues, but feeling defeated after a series opener would be the most dangerous reaction.
''They were ticked off, which is what you want them to be,'' coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''But I don't think they were, `Oh, woe is me'-type thing. Just let's get back at it, and let's go.''
The Wild owned a 52-26 edge in shots on goal. They had a whopping 90 attempts - ''if you want to score, you've got to shoot,'' Boudreau said - over the 77-plus minute game. The question now is whether they'll be able to come close to repeating such dominance Friday night with the disadvantage of being down one game.
''That's the way they play. We're going to expect the exact same thing or more,'' Allen said.
That's also the way the Blues play, packing their big-bodied defensemen in the middle and forcing the shooters to the outside as much as they can. Blues coach Mike Yeo said the reality of that strategy means the Wild's shots-on-goal numbers ''will be inflated every game,'' after acknowledging his team played ''too safe'' on Wednesday night.
Rangers at Canadiens, New York leads 1-0 (7 p.m. ET, USA)
The Canadiens were physical and dominant for long stretches of their Game 1 loss, pinning the Rangers deep in their own zone with a relentless forecheck, especially in the first period. Montreal also had good zone penetration and a number of legitimate scoring chances in high-danger areas.
It just didn't result in the red light coming on behind Lundqvist. That needs to change quickly Friday night if the Canadiens want to turn this into a series.
''We had some looks but in the end it was more about finish,'' said coach Claude Julien. ''We had some good looks, there were some loose pucks and it's just about winning those battles for loose pucks and making sure you bounce on them and finish them off.''
Sharks at Oilers, San Jose leads 1-0 (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
San Jose provided Edmonton with a stark lesson in the importance of playoff experience during their 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1. The Oilers and star Connor McDavid took a quick 2-0 lead. After that it was all San Jose. The Sharks outshot the Oilers 34-9, the last one coming on Melker Karlsson's winner 3:22 into the extra period.
''It was a big win,'' said San Jose forward Tomas Hertl, who assisted on the tying goal early in the third. ''We came back so strong. The reason we went so far last year is because we kept coming back in the second and third periods. We just keep going. We have a deep team. If we keep playing this same way, we will win the next game here, too.''
The Oilers are making their first playoff appearance in 11 years. The Sharks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year before losing to Pittsburgh. Those fresh memories didn't hurt.
''''I don't know if that's experience or not, or commitment, or whatever it was, but maybe it played a little role in there and it'll need to going forward,'' San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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