Head coach Pat Narduzzi:
Head coach Pat Narduzzi:
And so we've reached the end (almost). Pitt held its last true spring practice of 2016 this morning, outdoors, at the South Side practice facility. They'll wrap things up until August Saturday with the Blue-Gold game at Heinz Field, but first let's go through a rundown of what we saw today.
- A number of guys that were in yellow vests Tuesday had them on again today. Specifically, we're talking about LB Mike Caprara, DEs Dewayne Hendrix, Ejuan Price, Patrick Jones, and Allen Edwards, and OT Jaryd Jones-Smith. Of that group, Jones and Jones-Smith were on the injured/limited list during yesterday's spring game draft. Jones-Smith is definitely out as he still recovers from last season's knee injury, but Pat Narduzzi was a bit cagier with Jones' status, hinting that he could see some action, after all.
As for the other guys (Caprara, Hendrix, Price and Edwards), Narduzzi said Tuesday that they would all be available for Saturday's game and that the yellow jerseys were more precautionary. Of course, it would be a surer sign of their availability if the yellow jerseys came off, but we'll see on Saturday.
- Here are some videos from this morning's session...
The Penguins have a fine history of backup goaltenders stepping in and coming up big in playoff games.
Frank Pietrangelo. Ken Wregget. Ron Tugnutt. Tomas Vokoun.
Tonight, Jeff Zatkoff had a moment similar to ones those men can boast.
Chances are you won't find a more likable person in an NHL dressing room than Zatkoff.
He's beloved by his teammates. Revered by reporters seeking an easy quote. And respected by his coaches and management despite being submerged on the depth chart.
Tonight, his harshest critics got into the Zatkoff love-fest.
As he kept kicking out shot after shot by the Rangers tonight, chants of his name grew louder and increased in frequency.
Two months ago, you could find countless "Cut Zatkoff" or "Zatkoff [stinks]" proclamations on any corner of the internet.
Tonight, it was simply "Zat-Koff! Zat-Koff! Zat-Koff!"
(Or the alternating "Jeff! Jeff! Jeff!")
The Penguins surprised a lot of folks by starting Zatkoff in place of injured starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury tonight. Everything the Penguins showed the past two days indicated Fleury would be their starter when the puck dropped. Fleury was the first goaltender off the ice. Third stringer Tristan Jarry didn't even participate in the morning skate.
Yet when the pregame warmups started, it was Zatkoff who led his team onto the ice.
He played marvelously early on. And he had to. At one point, the Rangers had an 11-3 lead in shots within the first 16 minutes of play. The Penguins got off to a slow start and Zatkoff held things in check in time for them to take advantage of the Rangers' own health issues in net.
With 49 seconds left in the first period, Rangers all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was clipped in the face, presumably in the eye, by the stick of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. Lundqvist rolled and kicked his legs on the ice in pain. He eventually made his way to the bench to get some treatment from a medical staff and remained in the game but after giving up a goal, he would not return after the first intermisson. Backup goaltender Antti Raanta took over.
Think about how bizarre that sounds. Jeff Zatkoff vs. Antti Raanta in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Two months ago, a Zatkoff chant, a positive one at least, would have been the only thing even more bizarre.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead with only 17 seconds left in the first period. Right winger Patric Hornqvist dumped a puck into the Rangers' end board from the red line on the right wing. Left winger Conor Sheary raced by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, corralled the puck to the right of the net and shuffled it to the crease. Lundqvist kicked out a rebound in the slot where Hornqvist was waiting to fire a wrister through Lundqvist's five hole. Sheary and Letang had assists.
It became a 2-0 game late in the second. In the Penguins' slot, Hornqvist blocked a wrister by Girardi from the right point. Hornqvist corralled the rebound and chipped it up ice. As Girardi dived in vain to break up the pass, center Sidney Crosby settled the puck and was off to the races. He approached the net and torched a wrister by the glove hand of Raanta. Hornqvist had the lone assist.
The Rangers finally scored with left 16:50 in the third period. Working on a five-on-three power play, left wing Rick Nash controlled a puck to the right of the cage and fed it across the crease. Right wing Tom Kuhnhackl got a piece of it with his stick but the puck still found its way to center Derek Stepan who adjusted and whipped the puck past Zatkoff's blocker for an easy goal. Nash had the lone assist.
A short-handed goal made it a 3-1 game with 14:31 left. After defenseman Ben Lovejoy cleared a rebound away from Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle in the Penguins' zone, the Penguins created a two-on-one rush. Center Nick Bonino pushed the puck up the left wing against Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle. Bonino gave a little shoulder juke and fed a pass to Kuhnhackl moving in to the right of the crease. Kuhnachkl whipped a wrister by Raanta's glove hand. The place erupted. Bonino and Letang got assists.
They secured the win at the 8:02 mark. Controlling a puck at the center point. Letang dished a pass to Crosby in the right circle. Crosby whipped a puck towards the crease which hit a body in front. The puck deflected behind Raanta. Hornqvist and right winger Phil Kessel each jabbed at the puck. Hornqvist was credited with the goal. A coach's challenge was issued by the Rangers claiming goaltender inference. A fairly lengthy review failed to overturn the goal call. Kessel and Crosby got assists.
The Rangers kept fighting. With 9:49 left in the game, a goal by Stepan made it a 4-2 game. Boyle gained the offensive zone on the left wing, cut across the crease and whipped a wrister from the right circle. Zatkoff fought it off but set up Stepan perfectly on a rebound. Stepan lifted the puck by Zatkoff's left shoulder on the near side for a score. Boyle and right winger Mats Zuccarello got assists.
An empty net goal by Hornqvist at 17:10 of the third secured the win and a hat trick.
-Zatkoff wasn't perfect. He overplayed pucks some times and gave the Rangers some pretty big rebounds to work with. There was a lot of of the signature bad parts of Zatkoff's game in his performance. But he came up big on several quality scoring chances for the Rangers. He ate up shots on odd-man rushes and generally played well.
-Another interesting lineup decision was the Penguins using 11 forwards and seven defensemen tonight. Lovejoy dressed while left winger Tom Sestito was scratched. Head coach Mike Sullivan said part of that decision was rooted in defenseman Olli Maatta returning from injury but he also wanted to have a few more options with how he used his fourth line. Crosby as well as left wingers Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz each took shifts on that line with Sheary and Oskar Sundqvist and it created some offensive presence. And with the Penguins being forced to kill quite a few penalties, the extra defenseman proved to be crucial, especially on Lovejoy's clear leading to Kuhnhackl's goal.
-Hornqvist stepped up in a big way. He scored some ugly goals, i.e. playoff goals. Part of the reason he was brought to Pittsburgh was to increase the Penguins' ability to score goals from around the net. Tonight, he came up huge at an important time.
-The penalty kill was big. Yes, it gave up one goal on a five-on-three but that was only because Kuhnhackl actually made the right play to break up a pass but got a bad bounce. His ensuing goal really turned the tide of the game.
-Maatta seemed fine in his return. He was limited to 14:29 of ice time but played a fairly clean game.
-Sheary keeps finding ways to contribute. Tonight, he simply beat a slower defenseman in Girardi to a puck and put it on net. That led to Hornqvist's first goal. Sheary has 23 points in 23 career AHL playoff games. Granted, that's a different stage but Sheary knows how to play game in April.
-The Penguins even got a power play goal. They looked pretty ugly most of the game on most of their power plays but kept things simple on Hornqvist's second goal.
-Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said Lundqvist would be re-evaluated tomorrow. During an in-game interview with NBC, he described Lundqvist as day-to-day.
-Raanta was fairly solid. It was a pretty tough situation to be thrust in and he kept the Penguins at bay most of the game until things kind of caved in late. The three goals he allowed were hardly soft.
-The Rangers defense, particularly Girardi, seemed to have issues with the Penguins' speed. It will be interesting to see if they can adjust to it.
-Stepan was by far the Rangers' leading catalyst on offense. He seemed to be involved in most of their chances.
-Rangers left winger Tanner Glass and Bonino went at it tooth and nail most of the night. We have a feeling they'll cross paths more than once before this series is over.
-Zatkoff said he found out he would play last night:
“I knew last night. [Fleury] sent me a text. [Goalending coach Mike Bales] gave me a call. It was nice to have a night to prepare. Slept last night. Not so much for pregame nap. These eight o'clock starts are killing me.”
-Zatkoff said replacing injured backup Matt Murray in Saturday in Philadelphia was a big benefit:
“I'm thankful I was able to get into that [Philadelphia] game [Saturday]. And that was a big game for them so I felt like there was a little bit of pressure in that game and the atmosphere. It was a pretty easy transition moving in. Guys blocked a ton of shots. They made it great and I was able to make enough saves to get the win. It's definitely exciting. It feels good to get that first one but still a lot of work left to do."
-Hornqvist, who merely had a four-point night, said Zatkoff was the most important player of the game:
"He was probably our best player. The first 10, 15 minutes there, he made three or four really good saves and kept it 0-0. If they got 1-0 there, it's probably another game. Yeah, he was our best player."
-Daley said Zatkoff is a lovable chatterbox:
“He doesn't be quiet at all. He talks a lot. The only time he doesn't talk is when he plays. Sometimes when he plays, it's kind of really quiet in the room. He's a fun guy to have around the room. He's always got something to say to somebody. He's usually carrying the bulk the conversations. It was good to not listen to him talk before the game and let him play.”
-Bonino talked about Zatkoff the person:
“He's one of those glue guys in the room that you always want around. You always like having him on the road, in the dressing room, out to dinner. He's a great guy and he's a great goalie too. It's great that the hockey world sees that tonight.”
Sullivan lauded Zatkoff:
“I think it's a tough spot. I can't say enough about Jeff and how he's handled the situation that he's been in over the last couple of months. And I think to his credit, he's come to the rink every day and he's just been a great pro. He works with [Bales] our goalie coach. It's funny how this game works because you never know how the opportunity might present itself. And [Zatkoff] is the kind of guy that made sure he prepares himself so when that opportunity presents itself, he can be at his best and I thought that's what we saw tonight."
-Sullivan talked about all the subterfuge with their goaltending today:
“Obviously, we didn't want to reveal who we were going to play and give our opponents an opportunity to prepare for him. Maybe that had something to do with it. But we're trying to put our players in a position to be successful and so when we make those decisions, those were the reasons. I thought [Zatkoff] did a terrific job. He's been a great soldier for this team all year. He's really played in some big games at key times for us and he's given this team a chance to win. And that's what he did tonight. I couldn't be happier for him.”
-Sullivan wasn't happy with how his team started:
"I don't think we had the puck as much tonight as we've been accustomed to, especially early in the game. I don't know if it was just home team jitters or what but the first part of the game, I thought we weren't playing with the same conviction. I thought we settled in but it probably took us 10 or 12 minutes of that first period to settle into the game."
Sullivan talked about going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen:
“A little bit was that. It was certainly Olli's first game back in a while. We wanted to make sure we managed his minutes the right way so he could be effective. It gives more options as far as on the backend for [assistant coach Jacques Martin] when he's looking for certain matchups. We have some guys that we use on the power play. We have some guys that we use on the penalty kill that were in the lineup as part of that seven. And it gave me flexibility up front as far as moving other guys in with that fourth line.”
-Lovejoy liked using seven defensemen:
“I thought it went pretty well. Particularly with a heavy special teams game, it allowed the guys that normally penalty kill, to penalty kill and it allowed the guys normally on the power play to do that. Everybody was engaged and I think it was a big help."
-Lovejoy had no recollection of his clear against Boyle which led to Kuhnhackl's goal:
"I don't even remember it. On those penalty kills, when you're in front of the net, it's a jungle. You're doing anything you can to get a stick, a foot, a face on the puck at this time of year.”
Sullivan likes him some Hornqvist:
"It's hard to not love that guy. I just think he plays the game so hard. He goes to the net. He goes to the battle areas. So for him to get rewarded tonight I thought was great."
Daley talked big picture:
That's just one game. It's a best-of-seven series. Now we need three more. We just forget about this one. We talked about it before the game. We're not going to get too high or too low.”
-Zatkoff lauded Raanta:
“I was scratching my crease up there [at the start of] the second and I heard, 'Now in net Raanta' [over the public address system]. Give him credit. I thought he played well. It's a tough situation to come into. I thought maybe [Lundqvist] would come back. It's scary getting [sticks] in the eye. You never want to see that. Under the circumstance, I thought Raanta played well.”
-Vigneault said Kuhnhackl's goal was crucial:
“That was definitely a turning point in the game. I think we're fighting back. I think we have good pressure. Puck ended up in the corner and we had two players that didn't take a stride to come back and obviously [Yandle] didn't play that two-on-one the way he's supposed to. He's supposed to have that pass and it ended up in the back of our net.”
-The Rangers had a 37-31 lead in shots.
-Stepan led the game with seven shots.
-Hornqvist and defenseman Trevor Daley each led the Penguins with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 25:10 of ice time.
-Yandle led the Rangers with 22:08.
-The Penguins had a 34-32 lead in faceoffs (52 percent).
-Center Matt Cullen was 12 for 18 (67 percent).
-Rangers center Eric Staal was 9 for 10 (90 pecent).
-Bonino and Kuhnhackl each led the game with three blocked shots.
-Girardi led the Rangers with two blocked shots.
-Zatkoff, Kuhnhackl, Sheary, Sundqvist and defenseman Justin Schultz each played their first career playoff games.
-Hornqvist had the team's first postseason hat trick since center Evgeni Malkin scored three in a 4-3 road win against the Blue Jackets in Game 6 of a first-round series, April 28, 2014.
-Including playoffs, Kuhnhackl has six goals. Three of those are short-handed.
-Zatkoff really made some history:
Jeff Zatkoff became the first goaltender with a last name beginning with a 'Z' to record an NHL playoff victory.— David Alter (@dalter) April 14, 2016
-Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei made his playoff debut.
-The officiating crew of Jean Hebert, Tim Peel, David Brisebois and Pierre Racicot had a dreadful game. They had a lot of ticky tack calls.
(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The best jerseys at tonight's Penguins-Rangers game:
-Slippery Rock Joe Mullen:
-Rick Tocchet is popular in No. 22 form:
-And No. 92:
-There are a few Rangers fans on hand. Henrik Lundqvist:
-Two of the best right wingers in team history, Jaromir Jagr and Mark Recchi:
-There are some former Penguins/Rangers represented. Martin Straka:
-Jerseys of the Night: The ultimate playoff performer, Kevin Stevens: