Jeff Zatkoff has stepped in for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he may be outmatched. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury has been out with a concussion since the beginning of April, his second of the season. Backup goalie Matt Murray had performed exceptionally well, only to be sidelined with a head injury sustained in a game against the rival Philadelphia Flyers on April 9th.
The two injuries put the Pens in the position of having to enter the playoffs against the New York Rangers with Zatkoff in goal. This was not what the team or the fans had envisioned a month even three weeks ago as everything seemed to be going well with Pittsburgh poised for a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Apparently the hockey gods had other plans.
Zatkoff Front and Center
Game 1 between the Penguins and the Rangers went to the Pens, 5-2. Zatkoff did well, making 35 saves, this one coming from point-blank range:
Of course, it helped the Penguins’ cause that their offense was firing on all cylinders, with Patric Hornqvist chipping in a hat trick and an assist. And the fact that Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist was out for two periods with an eye injury helped, too. Zatkoff weathered the storm of his first Eastern Conference First Round series game and the Pens and their fans breathed a sigh of relief.
The King is Back
Lundqvist was back on Saturday and so was Zatkoff. This time, however, “The King” was not going to be outdone by the kid. The Rangers scored four unanswered goals after Phil Kessel gave the Pens the early lead, and that was that.
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) April 16, 2016
Kessel scored another goal late to make the final tally 4-2. The Rangers and Penguins leaving the weekend knotted up at one game apiece.
“Considering the uphill fight the Rangers are fighting, statistically, against the Penguins, there didn’t seem to be much hope if Lundqvist was going to miss games, but with King Henrik back in the lineup, the Rangers retain at least a puncher’s chance because they have a difference-maker between the pipes.”
Cullen is correct in realizing that the Penguins are the favored team to win the series. But, a friend sent me this text after the game: “Lundqvist is not going to lose to a backup goalie.” I tend to agree with that assessment.
Fleury has been on the ice practicing with the team. He has three more days before the teams square off in New York for Game 3. While Zatkoff has done his best, and he obviously has a bright future in the NHL, getting Fleury back is a must for the Pens to advance. The offense is explosive, bur Lundqvist is not going to lay down. The Pens need their top goalie to be able to equalize at their end of the ice.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.