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Brassard strikes in OT to lift Rangers

Rangers 3, Penguins 2

AP

The best line on hockey’s busiest team hardly looked gassed.

The way Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot were furiously pouring in overtime goals, the New York Rangers didn’t exactly look like a group in need of a day off.

Brassard beat Marc-Andre Fleury 3:06 into overtime — with Pouliot bizarrely doing the same seven seconds later — and the Rangers stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night.

The winner officially went to Brassard, whose wrist shot from in front beat Fleury cleanly but caromed back onto the ice. Referee Steve Kozari waved it off, however, and play continued before Pouliot slammed the puck into a wide open net moments later for good measure.

“I found out way later (Brassard) got the goal,” Pouliot said. “Good for him. We’ve been playing well against Philly and now tonight. We deserved that.”

Pouliot and Brad Richards gave the Rangers an early 2-0 lead. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots and stuffed a late Pittsburgh breakaway in the final seconds of regulation. The line of Pouliot, Brassard and Mats Zuccarello combined for 14 points in New York’s four regular-season meetings with the Penguins.

They were the best trio on the ice on a team barely 48 hours removed from a wearying seven-game victory over Philadelphia in the opening round.

“Since Christmas they’ve probably been our most consistent line,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “They’ve got real good chemistry. They read off one another and support one another well and . . . they scored two in overtime.”

Lee Stempniak and James Neal scored for the Penguins. Fleury made 24 saves but was helpless on the winner.

“It was just a big pile of guys and I was trying to find the puck out of it,” Fleury said.

Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby was held without a goal for the 12th straight playoff game as the Rangers took away much of the open ice where Crosby likes to operate.

“It could’ve went either way,” Crosby said. “I don’t think we played a full 60 (minutes).”

Blackhawks 5, Wild 2

In Chicago, Patrick Kane Kane scored two goals in the third period, including a terrific dash through the Minnesota zone for the tiebreaking score, and the Blackhawks beat Minnesota in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Bryan Bickell also scored twice for Chicago, which has won five in a row after losing its first two playoff games. Marian Hossa had a goal and two assists in the first game for the defending Stanley Cup champions since they closed out St. Louis on Sunday.

“We weren’t as sharp as we’d like to be,” Hossa said. “But as the game went on we improved. But I still think we can play better than we did. Huge win for us.”

The Wild showed no sign of any fatigue just two days after their dramatic 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 of their first-round series against Colorado. Playing in the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2003, Minnesota used third-period goals from Clayton Stoner and Kyle Brodziak to tie it at 2-2.

“We had some good moments in this game, but what it came down to we weren’t complete enough in this hockey game,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We weren’t complete enough collectively and individually.”

Brodziak’s third goal of the playoffs on a slick pass from Erik Haula silenced the sellout crowd of 21,116 with 13:04 left, but Kane then electrified the United Center once again with his 33rd playoff goal.

The flashy wing carried the puck into the Minnesota zone, hesitated as teammate Patrick Sharp skated behind him, and then split Brodziak and Brodin on his way to the net. He finished the play by roofing a backhand over goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s left shoulder at 8:22.

“He’s so calm with the puck in tight spaces and he makes shots that not a whole lot of people can make,” Sharp said. “That backhand is a good example of it. The thing I like about Kaner the best is the big stages, he always seems to put one in.”