NEW YORK (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins poured into the dressing room after the first period of overtime against the New York Rangers spent. Their legs heavy and the outcome still undecided, they dove headfirst into the fruit and sports drinks laid out by the team’s training staff.
Well, not everyone.
Louis Domingue wasn’t spent. Just hungry. The kind of gnaw in the stomach that comes from nervously sitting around for three-plus hours watching your teammates trade wild swings of momentum with the Rangers.
So Pittsburgh’s well-traveled backup goaltender looked over the options available Tuesday night and settled on a spicy pork dish. Just something to tide him over until postgame, whenever that might come. He wasn’t supposed to play. Not with starter Casey DeSmith matching Vezina Trophy favorite Igor Shesterkin save for save through four periods.
DeSmith wouldn’t make it through five periods. A lower-body injury sent him skating toward the exit in the middle of the second overtime. Suddenly, the player who wondered if his love of the game would return as his 30th birthday approached was thrust into the spotlight just a few blocks from Broadway, belly filled with spicy pork and all.
What happened next will live on in Penguins lore, no matter how their first-round series with the favored Rangers goes.
Domingue turned aside all 17 shots he faced from New York, buying his teammates enough time to win it on Evgeni Malkin’s deflection 5:58 into the third overtime.
Pittsburgh will carry a 1-0 lead into Thursday night’s Game 2 thanks in large part to a journeyman who hopes he may finally have found a sense of place. With DeSmith’s status uncertain, Domingue appears headed for his first career playoff start.
He can only hope to pull off a repeat of his unlikely Game 1 cameo. He thought the referees were joking when they skated over to the bench and told him to get loose. They weren’t. So Domingue stretched a little, threw on his catcher and blocker and then settled into the crease. It all happened so quickly, there was no time to get jittery.
“You dream about that your whole life, you’re playing in overtime in the playoffs, are you kidding me?” Domingue said. “You think you’d be nervous in a situation like that, but it was just fun for me.”
The kind of fun that was hard for Domingue to find when the Penguins signed him to a one-year contract on the eve of training camp last September. He’d spent most of the 2020-21 season in the minors. More of the same awaited in Pittsburgh, which was set at the top with All-Star Tristan Jarry and DeSmith.
Still, Domingue threw himself into his work. He posted a solid .924 save percentage playing for the Penguins’ AHL affiliate and played well in two spot starts in the NHL, the second a 39-save performance in a loss to Philadelphia two weeks ago.
“I wanted to be back in the NHL this year,” Domingue said. “I think I put in the effort to get back. I had a few opportunities here and there. I’m pretty happy to be where I am today. I’m pretty lucky to be playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a hell of a team.”
A team that now finds its playoff fate tied — at least in the short term — to the play of a goaltender who hasn’t been an NHL regular for nearly a half-decade. Domingue began his career in Arizona in 2014, playing for a series of bad teams that never reached the playoffs. He had more success as a No. 2 in Tampa — including a 21-5 mark in 2018-19 — before bouncing to New Jersey, Vancouver and Calgary. He made just one start for the Canucks. And one for the Flames.
Still, Pittsburgh’s front office liked Domingue’s experience and with nobody in the minors NHL ready, took a flyer on him. Eight months later, it paid off spectacularly. At least for a night.
“The depth in all the positions is so critically important this time of year and we’re living it right now,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s the importance of that No. 3 goalie in the event you have to go to him, if you can fill that position with a real capable guy that has NHL experience, that’s a huge bonus and Louis checks all those boxes.”
The Penguins called up Alex D’Orio from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday, a serious hint that Domingue will get the nod in Game 2. Sullivan is only hoping things go as smoothly for Domingue with a bit more than a moment’s notice to get ready.
“That’s not an easy task when you’re sitting on the bench for that long,” Sullivan said. “He was on the bench for a long time. He made a couple of key saves for us early on right away. I thought he did a terrific job under real tough circumstances.”
Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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