Pens G1 hero Domingue expecting to start Thurs.

A day after stepping up with a stunning relief effort in Pittsburgh’s wild Game 1 win of their Stanley Cup playoffs opening-round series against New York, Penguins backup goaltender Louis Domingue said he will likely follow that up with his first career playoff start.

Domingue, Pittsburgh’s well-traveled 30-year-old journeyman goaltender, hinted on ESPN’s The Point that he expects to start in Thursday night’s Game 2 when the Penguins again face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “I believe so,” he said, when asked if he would start.

In Tuesday’s Game 1 win, starter Casey DeSmith didn’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.

Domingue 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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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