For the longest time, it looked they were dead. When Kris Letang converted a Evgeni Malkin feed off a two-on-one almost halfway through, the Rangers really looked finished.
It’s hard enough to come back from a 3-1 series deficit. Trailing by two on home ice in a do or die scenario, it would’ve been easy for them to give up. Not tonight. Not with over 18,000 screaming fans fully behind them despite the score.
In what amounted to a heart and guts performance that had more defined their season, the Rangers got off the deck to rally back for a 5-3 win over the Penguins to take Game Five at MSG. They are very much alive headed to Pittsburgh for another elimination game on Friday.
It wouldn’t have been possible without large contributions from Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. The third line combined for two goals and two assists including the clutch Chytil game-winner on the power play with 17:07 left in a very tense third period.
They also don’t win without a gritty performance from key defenseman Ryan Lindgren. The heart and soul of the blue line returned after missing the last three games. At one point late in the second, he went to the locker room after absorbing a tough hit.
But the warrior came back for the emotional third. Somehow, whatever is ailing Lindgren didn’t prevent him from making a difference. When the Pens pulled Louis Domingue for an extra attacker in search of the equalizer, there was a calm Lindgren to clear the puck out of harm’s way. He then sent it down into a vacated net with 16 seconds left to seal it.
Nobody deserved that goal more than the man they call Lindy. In 27 shifts, he played 19:34 and blocked three shots while getting the empty netter that was a sigh of relief. Anxiety reduced in the building once that went in.
Of course, the moment everyone’s talking about is the hit Jacob Trouba laid on Sidney Crosby with 10:45 left in the second period. On a play in their zone, Trouba delivered a shoulder that caught a leaning Crosby up high. He fell to the ice in awkward fashion.
The Pens’ captain didn’t leave until taking a couple of more shifts. His last one came with under seven minutes remaining in the second. He would head to the locker room and not return.
When asked following the game what Crosby’s status was, coach Mike Sullivan indicated that he was still being evaluated for an “upper-body” injury. Considering the way he was caught and landed, that could mean anything. He did walk on his own out of the arena.
As for what Sullivan asserted about the Trouba hit, I am in disagreement. But that’s to be expected. The vantage point of two bitter rivals and fans will be totally opposite. Was it dirty? If you ask Pittsburgh, yes. Is it going to come under scrutiny due to it being Crosby? Absolutely.
While a few of the Penguins media tried to spew nonsense about an elbow, it wasn’t. Neither was it a high stick as some contested. It was a hit. Not the heaviest Trouba has laid on an opponent. But it had an impact.
Will it be reviewed it by NHL Player Safety? Maybe. But here’s a point that nobody on the Penguins side wants to admit. If three refs and three linesmen didn’t make a call, then was it really what they claim?
These are the same officials who ignored obvious Penguin infractions early in the period when the Rangers were finally applying their most pressure. The same ones who overturned a Chytil goal with over three minutes remaining in Game One. He didn’t have his winner tonight changed.
Don’t forget too that they put Wes McCauley on Game Five. If there’s one ref I would want on a big game, it’s him. The crew that included Garrett Rank and Kendrick Nicholson wasn’t perfect. But they had six officials on this game.
Whatever happens between tomorrow and Friday happens. The interesting aspect is that Trouba had his most effective game. After the Pens fell apart without their emotional leader, he scored and assisted on two of the Rangers’ three goals over a 2:42 span.
That included a tremendous individual effort from Trouba in which took a feed from Artemi Panarin and made a strong power move for a great goal that suddenly put the Rangers in front with 2:07 left.
However, the Pens quickly countered by taking advantage of an Igor Shesterkin giveaway that allowed Evgeni Malkin to set up Jake Guentzel for his series-leading seventh just 13 seconds later. That meant a tie game with possibly one period left in the Rangers’ season.
Thankfully, they didn’t allow the Pens to end it on Garden ice. Instead, they played a courageous third period to earn the victory. That included Shesterkin, who overcame some more spotty goaltending to deliver his best work since Game Two. He stopped all 15 shots in the third to finish with 29 saves.
The packed building really helped him. Their energy helped the Rangers rally for their second win of the series. It sure didn’t come easy. Why would it? Could you stand all the excitement?
Everyone was ready for this game. Someone forgot to tell the players who started the game. On the opening shift, both Kreider (slashing on Crosby) and Trouba (elbowing on Guentzel) took coincidental minors before 25 seconds had elapsed. It was mind numbing.
While some fans booed the penalties, they were both legit. Despite the warped logic of fans on both sides, it’s not always a conspiracy when it goes against your team. Although I do agree the Rangers have had the short end of the stick. The Chytil reversal is still a hard one to digest. We don’t know what would’ve happened.
So, at 24 seconds into the first period, the Rangers were up against it. They had to kill off a full two-minute Penguins five-on-three. It felt impossible. Especially considering how that power play looked the past two games. Especially without Barclay Goodrow, who is sorely missed.
Credit the three penalty killers for doing an outstanding job. It was Andrew Copp, Lindgren and Adam Fox who were very good in front of Shesterkin. Then, Mika Zibanejad replaced Copp. Eventually, Copp returned with K’Andre Miller and Justin Braun.
Somehow, they managed to keep the three Pittsburgh shots to the outside. Shesterkin stopped Letang, Guentzel and Malkin in succession. The best one came on Letang who tested his glove. But he was ready for it.
Lindgren also blocked a shot. Of course, he did. That’s who he is. He is a lot like Dan Girardi. He makes up for his lack of size with grit and determination. He’ll do anything to help the team win.
As big as that two-minute penalty kill was, it hurt the team. They had trouble getting shots on Domingue. The strategy was fine. They finished checks and attempted shots. But the Pens defended well.
Lafreniere had a couple of good hits early. That line with Chytil and Kakko approached it the right way. Just as Chytil said before the game, they needed to have more of shooting mentality and play simple. Maybe that’s why the third line has been the Rangers’ best. They sure got rewarded.
In an unsurprising move, Gerard Gallant opted to dress 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. Both Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves made up the make shift fourth line that saw different players take turns on it. That included Lafreniere and Kakko.
Even more head scratching was Gallant’s refusal to give Patrik Nemeth a shift. I guess after Game Three, who could blame him? Even when Lindgren left for repairs later, he worked with his top five that included Fox, Trouba, Miller, Braun and Braden Schneider. So Nemeth dressed for nothing.
I didn’t mind. In games like these, you have to find a way to maximize your top forwards. In this extreme case, their top nine. Especially with Zibanejad, Kreider and Panarin bottled up. The latter looks to be playing hurt. Maybe he’s not fully recovered from what kept him out at the conclusion of the regular season.
After the Pens got the game’s first four shots, it was Lafreniere who finally got the Rangers’ first when he tested the blocker of Domingue at the 6:59 mark. Although they eventually picked it up, getting good looks was hard to come by.
While they were kept on the outside by the stingy Pittsburgh defense who still were without Brian Dumoulin, the Pens took advantage of some sloppy giveaways to strike first.
Following consecutive stops by Shesterkin on Brock McGinn, Crosby won an offensive draw from Zibanejad. With the Crosby line again applying constant pressure on the top line and Miller-Trouba pair, Guentzel forced Shesterkin into two more saves. He stuck with it to bank a loose puck in off Igor, who didn’t cover his near post.
Guentzel’s sixth goal of the series came at 10:28 from Rust and Mike Matheson. The latter of who’s become a thorn in the Rangers’ side. He’s been the Pens’ best weapon from the blue line over Letang, who we’d hear from later.
In between the turnover fest, the best opportunity for the Blueshirts was when Ryan Strome found Panarin for a quick shot that Domingue made a good save on. Strome would get a couple of shots on the Penguins goalie later.
Only down a goal, it honestly felt like more due to how the Pens were playing. They patiently waited for mistakes and attacked when possible. Domingue made 11 saves in the period. But it didn’t feel like it. Even with Fox, Lafreniere and Chytil coming close late.
When my brother said that surviving the first period only down a goal was a win, that wasn’t exactly reassuring. But I knew what he meant. Especially considering the full two-man advantage the Penguins had in the early going.
The second started better. Although there weren’t many shots early, the Rangers began to assert themselves. Starting to win more physical battles, they took the play to the Pens.
Following a near miss from Matheson off the far goalpost, Panarin was denied by Domingue. Then Lindgren was stopped. You could feel the Rangers’ game coming. A better sustained attack led to a few more close calls.
The problem was nothing was getting past Domingue. There also were at least two missed calls on the Pens, who grabbed Blueshirts. They let a lot go. The boos were justified.
Chytil had a near miss in tight. After he had a shot blocked by Letang, Fox got trapped pinching in. The Pens quickly turned the puck the other way. Schneider made a bad step up in his end. What followed was Malkin threading a perfect pass across for a Letang shot that went over Shesterkin’s blocker for his first.
That made it 2-0 Pens with 12:02 left in the second. It sure wasn’t looking good. All they were doing was playing a smart defensive game. It had them ahead by two and looking like a lock to advance to the second round.
Shortly following the Letang tally, that’s when Trouba changed the game with his hit on Crosby. It wasn’t obvious at first. He definitely caught him flush in a tough position. I’m sure there will be even more fuss over it.
Since I’m not one who likes seeing players hurt, let’s hope Crosby is okay. If the Rangers are gonna force a seventh and deciding game, I want to beat the Pens with Crosby playing in Game Six. That way there are no excuses.
If you want to be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man. Think Nature Boy, Ric Flair. I want to see our side force Game Seven. But let’s do it straight up. Everyone knows by now how special Crosby is. He’s dominated this series with nine points.
When he couldn’t continue, Sullivan bumped up Malkin between Guentzel and Rust. They were a handful. People forget that Malkin can be very dangerous. He was throughout last night’s game. He also was ornery. That’s when he’s most effective. You don’t want to awaken the beast.
Once Crosby was gone, the Pens unraveled late in the second. Following some strong shifts and a key save from Shesterkin who heard the more happy chant of “Ig-or, Ig-or,” from the Garden contingent, here came the Rangers.
On some sustained pressure with both Trouba and Fox out with the second line, Strome and Copp were able to get the puck up top. For the first time all game, Fox had time and space. He waited before firing a wrist shot through a Strome screen past Domingue for his third to cut it to 2-1 with 4:49 left.
The building erupted. They nearly drew even on the next shift. But Zibanejad sent a Lafreniere centering pass wide of the net. That’s the kind of series it’s been. It goes without saying that Zibanejad has to be a factor on Friday to force Game Seven.
Some splendid work from the third line led to the second straight goal. After Miller went wide on a shot, a good pinch from Trouba pushed the puck to Kakko behind the net. He centered for a wide open Lafreniere who slammed home his second in two games at 16:41.
With the arena rocking, Shesterkin made an important stop on Brian Boyle. Once the play moved into the Pittsburgh zone, some more forecheck pressure allowed Trouba to take a Panarin pass and cut in and beat Domingue with a backhand to give the Rangers three consecutive goals in 2:42.
Before Joe Tolleson could even announce that goal, Shesterkin misplayed a puck right to Guentzel. He stopped the first shot. But Malkin set up Guentzel in the slot for his second of the game to suddenly tie it at three only 13 seconds later.
That goal with 1:54 left in the second could’ve really demoralized the Blueshirts. To their credit, they wouldn’t let it.
At the beginning of the third period, it was the Malkin line with Guentzel and Rust applying some early pressure. But a key Shesterkin save on Malkin got the crowd back into it.
Marcus Pettersson took an undisciplined interference minor on Copp in the offensive zone. That was a huge momentum shift.
On a power play, Gallant went with his suddenly struggling top unit. Following another bad Zibanejad miss that allowed the Pens to clear it down, out came the little used second unit. I begged for it.
On what can best be described as a broken play, Frank Vatrano and Lafreniere had a puck take a home bounce right to Chytil. In the slot, he quickly took a turnaround wrist shot that beat Domingue top shelf for his first career postseason goal at 2:53.
This one counted. Chytil jumped up into the boards and celebrated the big power play goal. He deserved it. He’s been working so hard. He also backed up his pregame talk. The assist gave Lafreniere two points for the game.
Leading 4-3, the Rangers were still a long way from forcing a sixth game. That point was made clear when they blew a four-on-one. It only led to a Kreider shot that Domingue was ready for making a good glove save.
On the flip side, Shesterkin had to contend with a pair of tough shots from Evan Rodrigues. He made two straight clutch saves to get The Garden chanting, “Ig-or, Ig-or, ” again. He needed that.
It was a nerve racking heart in your throat kind of period. Exactly what every Ranger fan wanted. A closely fought game where they did the opposite of 2014 and it worked. It’s always smart to fall behind by two at home in an elimination game and drive your fans cuckoo.
Then finally take the lead only to give it right back 13 seconds later. So, when Chytil scored to put them back ahead, I’ll readily admit that I didn’t know what to expect. If you did by that point, you’re lying. Lol 😆 🤣
Here were the Pens minus Crosby playing well. They were attacking the same exact way. You just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But Shesterkin steadied. He got back to being the goalie he is capable of. That’s the biggest reason there’s a Game Six. If he can figure it out in enemy territory, there’s a good chance there will be a Game Seven this weekend.
After a good save on Danton Heinen, Strome lost his cool and took an undisciplined minor for unsportsmanlike conduct on Teddy Blueger. Sam Rosen was right to call him out for the penalty.
Fortunately, the Rangers killed it off. Shesterkin made one more stop on Rodrigues, who was dangerous. During a scrum, Malkin lost his cool after Lindgren took him down. But Guentzel also got an extra two from roughing Fox.
That ended the Pens power play. After a brief four-on-four, the Rangers went back on the man-advantage. They got a couple of shots from Panarin and Kreider, but never came close to extending the lead.
This one went down to the wire. It was nervous time when a dangerous Matheson rush almost resulted in the tying goal. Good thing he missed. There were a few sequences like that one.
Another Malkin minor for roughing Kevin Rooney, who quietly had a good defensive game, put the Rangers on another power play. But like a broken record, Gallant overused his failing top unit which is firing blanks.
The Pens even had a shorthanded chance. Shesterkin denied McGinn from distance. The Rangers got two shots on the power play.
Afterwards, Kasperi Kapanen went wide with a shot from the slot. That was a good opportunity for the Pens to tie it. So was Mark Friedman, who Shesterkin this time stopped. He also missed wide on a rebound.
That these are the guys getting chances tells you about the Pens’ mentality. They’re all dangerous. They didn’t need Crosby in the third to out-shoot the Rangers 15-11. If they want to return to MSG, they can’t allow such opportunities.
The final minute and a half was nuts. After Domingue went to the Pittsburgh bench for an extra attacker, the Pens attempted five shots. Both Letang and Guentzel went wide. Rodrigues was denied twice more by Shesterkin, who came up big in crunch time.
Then Lindgren cleared the loose puck away from the crease. He then got to it and sent it down the ice where it landed right in the center of the Pens net at 19:44.
Exhale. The bottom line is they got it done. It wasn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. Now, it’s about stealing one in Pittsburgh. That will require a better start tomorrow night. If they can get an early lead and Igor stays locked in, it’s possible.
These games are very stressful. Just imagine what the players must feel. They showed a lot of heart and guts. It’ll take even more to win Game Six. The character of this team finally showed up. Let’s see them do it again.
THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️
3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba NYR goal (1st), assist, 4 SOG, 6 attempts, 2 hits including the one on Crosby, 3 blocks, +3 in 23:01
2nd 🌟 Filip Chytil NYR game-winning power play goal at 2:53 of 3rd period, 2 SOG, 6 attempts in 12:37
1st 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere NYR goal (2nd) plus assist (2), 3 SOG, 4 attempts, 3 hits in 16:20