Playing with emotion, Martin St. Louis inspired his teammates for a second straight game. On Mother’s Day, he scored a goal in front of his Dad and sister helping lead the Rangers to an emotional 3-1 Game 6 win over the Pens at a boisterous Madison Square Garden. After trailing the second round series 3-1, the Rangers have forced a deciding Game 7. That’ll be played Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
In their franchise history, the Rangers have never rallied from a 3-1 series deficit. They also have never defeated the Pens in the postseason. When the series returns to Consol Energy Center, they’ll take aim at history. On the line will be a spot in the Eastern Conference Final. A year removed from a disappointing second round exit, they’ll look to make it two Final Four appearances in the last three years.
The Rangers are here because they never gave up. Despite losing Games 3 and 4 at MSG to fall behind the Pens 3-1, they have continued to fight clawing their way back in the series. Since St. Louis’ Mom France passed away, they have outscored Pittsburgh 8-2 to even the Conference Semifinal. Two days after a convincing 5-1 Game 5 win, they jumped out to a two-goal first period lead on goals from St. Louis and Carl Hagelin. Similar to Friday, they never trailed. The Pens crept within one but that was as close as they got. Derick Brassard scored a key insurance goal and Henrik Lundqvist made 36 saves.
Unlike the first two home games in the series, the Rangers had plenty of support from a more positive MSG. The energy in the building was unmistakable. I’m glad that I chose this game to go. My first playoff game in two years. There were never any boos aside from ones that greeted the Pens during warm ups. This was a far different scene reminiscent to classic scenes of Garden past. When facing elimination, you need everyone on your side. Tonight, they received it and ran with it.
Faced with the consequence of going back home for a do or die seventh game, the Pens came out more aggressively. Searching for the game’s first goal, the Sidney Crosby line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz had an extended shift that had the Rangers pinned in for over a minute. Despite that early edge, they only mustered one shot which Lundqvist kicked out. Once the puck was cleared, the Rangers went on the offensive. Off an Anton Stralman dump in, Derek Stepan took a shot which Marc-Andre Fleury got a piece of. But a determined St. Louis chipped in the rebound for his first goal of the series at 3:34.
”It’s probably one of the cooler things I’ve been a part of in my professional career,” praised Stepan after tallying his first point in the series. ”The emotion on that goal is something that I will never forget.”
The emotional tally had the Garden going wild. Loud chants of “Mar-ty, Mar-ty!” rained down from Section 419 to the ice. I can’t imagine how he felt along with his Dad and sister who he helped fly out from Montreal to see Game 6. They had to be extremely proud. He scored for France and deserved every chant and cheer he received.
”Mother’s Day, my dad is here, my sister is here,” St. Louis said. ”It’s been a tough time for my whole family. To be able to get the lead in the first period, it was a good one.”
”I got a pretty good bounce. ”I know (my mother) helped me through this. It’s a great win by the guys.”
Inspired by his goal, the Rangers rode the momentum. Less than three minutes later, Carl Hagelin scored his fourth unassisted increasing to a 2-0 lead. Off a broken play with the Pens scrambling around, he got to a loose puck and sent a backhand past Fleury from a sharp angle. The goal sent the place into bedlam. Hagelin’s goal was the product of a good forecheck. With nowhere to go with the puck, he wisely shot and surprised Fleury. That’s why shooting the puck is never a bad idea.
With nothing going right for his team, Pens coach Dan Bylsma quickly called timeout. Initially, it didn’t work. If not for a big save Fleury made on Chris Kreider, the Pens might’ve been run out of the building. Kreider came in one-on-one on Fleury and tried to go five-hole but the Pens netminder shut it down. Both teams failed on power plays. Following that, Pittsburgh got back in the game on a fluke goal. On a cycle, Matt Niskanen sent a wide shot on Lundqvist that deflected off Kevin Klein right to Brandon Sutter, who buried it cutting the deficit to 2-1 with 3:04 left.
The Pens were dangerous the rest of the period but were unable to beat Lundqvist. He stopped 14 of 15 and allowed the Rangers to feel confident entering the second. A controversial ruling took away a Kreider power play goal. The play in question saw him drive the net on a mini-break and bump into Fleury. The puck went in. Despite being shoved from behind, they not only waived the goal off but sent Kreider to the penalty box for goalie interference. It wasn’t the right call. If anything, it should’ve been no goal and incidental contact because Fleury had no chance to play it. The Pens wound up with a power play.
To their credit, the Rangers did a good job killing it off. When the Pens got shots through, Lundqvist stood tall. He stopped all 11 Pens shots in an even period. With the game still hanging in the balance, the Blueshirts needed a spark. Again, it was provided by the line of Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard. On a good cycle, Kevin Klein worked the puck down to Pouliot, whose shot caromed off Fleury. A driving Brassard batted in the rebound top shelf for his third goal in two games. The momentum turning goal increased the Rangers’ lead to 3-1 with 4:30 to go in the period.
With the crowd giving it to Fleury, the Pens let their emotions get the best of them. Following a Lundqvist save at the end of the second, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz got into it with Brian Boyle. So did Evgeni Malkin, whose two-hander was missed. In any event, Boyle took Crosby and Kunitz with him. A great trade off that gave the Rangers a power play to start the third. Even though they didn’t score, it allowed them to carry momentum.
The Rangers didn’t attack much in the final stanza. They sat back and defended. Lundqvist turned aside 11 more shots. None of them were dangerous. He was able to see the puck and his team defense did a stellar job in front. Everyone contributed defensively getting sticks on pucks and preventing the Pens from getting any glorious chances.
With the game decided, James Neal got a misconduct for taking out frustration. After the final buzzer, Kris Letang mixed it up with Klein. Each were assessed two-minute penalties. Kunitz whined to the refs because that’s what he and the Pens resort to when it doesn’t go their way. It didn’t matter.
Ultimately, the Rangers did what they had to do. Grabbed early momentum and scored the first two goals. In the last two games, they got the first two and never relinquished the lead. They have played with great emotion and passion. There’s no doubt they’ve rallied around St. Louis. Now, they have a shot at history. Tuesday can’t come soon enough.
3rd Star-Anton Stralman, NYR (assist, SOG, blocked shot, +1 in 21:10-quietly having strong postseason)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (36 saves incl. 22/22 final 2 periods)
1st Star-Martin St. Louis, NYR (goal-3rd at 3:34 on Mother’s Day, 4 SOG, 2 takeaways, +1 in 18:09-awe inspiring stuff)