On the day of tonight’s Game Six in Pittsburgh, there’s plenty of news to digest.
First and foremost, Sidney Crosby will not play. The Penguins captain skated with a skill coach this morning, but isn’t an option for Game Six.
Frank Seravelli reported that Crosby suffered from concussion-like symptoms following the Jacob Trouba hit in the second period of Game Five. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has continued to term it an “upper-body” injury.
Obviously, you hate that one of the game’s greatest players is out tonight. It’s unfortunate. However, Evgeni Malkin will move up to center the top line with leading goalscorer Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Guentzal has seven goals in the series.
We know how dangerous Malkin can be. He played well in Game Five finishing with two assists. He also was his ornery self going back at Kevin Rooney with a cross-check to his face. Nothing was called on the play.
From the look of things, Evan Rodrigues will center the Pens’ second line and Jeff Carter the third. Teddy Blueger is expected to center the fourth line.
In two more updates, Tristan Jarry took part in the Pens’ morning skate. He was the first goalie on the ice. However, he will not play tonight. If there’s a Game Seven, Jarry might return if they get there.
With Jarry again unavailable as he recovers from a fractured foot, it’ll again be Louis Domingue in net tonight. With his team leading Game Five 2-0, he allowed three goals on three straight shots over a 2:42 span late in period two.
Following Guentzel tying the score just 13 seconds later, Filip Chytil scored on the power play early in the third to make it four consecutive Ranger shots that beat Domingue. Two went upstairs. One was a slam dunk by Alexis Lafreniere. The other a Trouba backhand from the slot that went low.
Rickard Rakell skated. It doesn’t sound like he’s ready yet. He was knocked out of Game One during the second period on a tough Ryan Lindgren hit.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin remains day-to-day. His situation hasn’t changed. If that’s indeed the case, expect Kris Letang and Mike Matheson to get the bulk of the minutes on the Pittsburgh blue line.
There isn’t as much news on the Rangers front. Only that Tyler Motte has been given the okay to play. He’ll be a game-time decision later.
Assuming Gerard Gallant dresses Motte, it’s likely he goes back to a normal allotment with 12 forwards and six defensemen. If that’s the case, I would assume Justin Braun stays in to play third pair with Braden Schneider. Patrik Nemeth would likely come out.
If Motte goes, here’s your projected Rangers lineup for Game Six:
Line 1 Kreider-Zibanejad-Vatrano
Line 2 Panarin-Strome-Copp
Line 3 Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko
Line 4 Motte-Rooney-Reaves
Pair 1 Lindgren-Fox
Pair 2 Miller-Trouba
Pair 3 Braun-Schneider
It goes without saying that the Rangers need big games out of their top players. It can’t fall on the third line. Lafreniere, Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have had good series. They have played the way you have to.
It’s time for Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome to step to the forefront. They’re the core of this team.
We know Strome is likely gone this summer. That doesn’t matter. Zibanejad still is without a goal. Kreider has two. Panarin leads the team with six points (2-4-6). But his play has been uneven.
Adam Fox is tied with Andrew Copp in goals (3) for the team lead. He enters with a five-game point streak. But his defense must be better. Getting Lindgren back helped last game. He’s the warrior of these Blueshirts.
While much of the focus is on the team leaders, all eyes will be on Igor Shesterkin. Having been chased in Games Three and Four for 10 goals on 45 shots in three periods while being taunted by Pens fans who serenaded him with “Ig-or, Ig-or” chants, the Vezina frontrunner and Hart candidate must respond much better.
The 26-year old Russian netminder has been the backbone of this team all year. He needs to back up the 15 saves he made in the third period of Game Five by playing to form. If not, then Gallant will have no choice but to go to Alex Georgiev.
Don’t forget that after initially falling apart once Crosby left the game on Wednesday, the Pens responded with a strong third period. They attacked the same way and forced Shesterkin into some tough saves. He was equal to the challenge.
The Rangers’ best player must be that tonight if they’re to force a deciding Game Seven this weekend.
That’s gonna do it for now. I’ll have much more on the big game later.