Tied Up! Kreider’s goal with 1:28 left in regulation gives Rangers an improbable 5-3 win over Penguins to take Game Six, Comeback kids force deciding seventh game, Zibanejad delivers and Shesterkin silences chants

It’s going seven! The best words when it comes to playoff hockey. The Rangers dug very deep to pull out a hard fought 5-3 win to take Game Six over the Penguins in enemy territory. 

Chris Kreider stunned everyone when he scored his second goal of the game from long distance, beating Louis Domingue off his glove with 1:28 left in regulation. His clutch game-winner at 18:32 of the third period broke a 3-3 tie to silence a crowd of 18,342 at PPG Paints Arena.

Andrew Copp sealed the big victory with an empty netter at 19:33. Igor Shesterkin delivered when it counted by making eight saves in a tense final period to pick-up his first ever road postseason win.

He held up well by making several clutch stops in a hostile environment that taunted him with the familiar, “Ig-or, Ig-or, Ig-or”, chants throughout. Shesterkin finished the do or die game with 31 saves on 34 shots.

For a second consecutive game, the Rangers fell behind 2-0 against an experienced opponent. Playing without Sidney Crosby, the Pens broke open a scoreless tie by exploding for the game’s first two goals over 1:36 late in the first period.

It sure looked like that experience would be enough for them to wrap up the best-of-seven first round series. But once again, like Jason on Friday The 13th, the Rangers wouldn’t go quietly. Credit their resilience and heart for digging out of another early two-goal deficit to win another elimination game.

It’s hard to believe how they won it. If you watched, you know why. That third period was very intense. Nobody wanted to make a mistake. It was the way you see such tightly contested games in the playoffs get decided.

It sure looked like it was headed to overtime. But following a key defensive play from Tyler Motte who Gerard Gallant stuck out for a late shift on the first line, Adam Fox turned the play up to Mika Zibanejad. What happened next was unbelievable.

A simple Zibanejad drop for Kreider allowed him enough breathing room to get off a wrist shot from distance that went off Domingue’s glove and took a fortunate Rangers bounce to give them a 4-3 lead.

Zibanejad had a great night. It was his two straight goals that drew the Rangers even 1:16 apart in a much better played second period. He first connected on the power play only five seconds in when he buried a Ryan Strome feed for a one-timer that gave him his first of the series.

On a dominant shift at five-on-five, Zibanejad then bombed another one-timer off an Adam Fox pass by a screened Domingue to tie the score. After having a very quiet first five games, Zibanejad was the best player on the ice. He had two goals and two assists in a memorable four-point effort.

Give Zibanejad a ton of credit. It had been a tough series for him having to go up against the Crosby line. Did it help that Crosby was out? Absolutely. However, Gallant flipped the script by changing the match-up. He had the Artemi Panarin line go up against Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.

Getting the Zibanejad line away from the vaunted Penguins top line with Malkin filling in for Crosby, freed up the Rangers’ best line for offense. A move that had to be made by Gallant to counter Mike Sullivan. In these series, match-ups matter. Gallant finally got a favorable one that paid off.

Another key area they won was the special teams. It proved large. While the Penguins failed on one 67-second five-on-three during a crucial point of the second, the Rangers converted twice in three chances. So, they went 2-for-3 while the Pens took the collar in three chances. A monumental difference.

A lot can be said about why there’ll be a deciding Game Seven at MSG on Sunday night. Start time will be 7 PM. So, we will again have the same time for the puck drop.

At this critical point, it’s who wants it more. These kind of big games come down to heart and guts. The Rangers have shown plenty the last two games to reach this point. It’s not about skill. But about will. How far are they willing to go to advance to the next round? We’re about to find out.

For those history experts, no. What happened in 2014 doesn’t mean anything. Ditto for 2015. However, you know they have the one player left from those teams who understands what it takes to complete a 3-1 comeback.

Kreider sure delivered tonight by scoring twice including his stunning game-winner to send this series back to Manhattan all even. It’s no coincidence that he and sidekick Zibanejad came through in the clutch.

They’re the only holdovers from 2017. The last time this team made the playoffs. You know they don’t want it to end. Most encouraging is that since that 7-2 drubbing in Game Four that put them in a 3-1 hole, there are a lot of Blueshirts who want the season to continue.

It’s that tremendous character that has defined this team all year long. They are the comeback kids for a reason. All those comeback wins helped them rally to win Games Five and Six. If they want to complete the trifecta, it’s advisable for them to get off to a better start on Sunday.

Prior to the game, it was revealed that there would be one lineup change. After being cleared to play, Motte was indeed in for Friday night. Gallant went back to the conventional 12 forwards, six defensemen with Patrik Nemeth coming out. He might have reached Julien Gauthier status in this series.

Here’s how they lined up:

Meanwhile, the Pens made one change with Drew O’Connor coming in for the injured Crosby. The status of defenseman Brian Dumoulin hadn’t changed. Neither has it for Rickard Rakell. Jarry practiced for the fourth time. You have to think he’ll play Game Seven.

Following the opening face-off, Guentzel got off a quick low wrist shot to immediately test Shesterkin, who shut it down. He did get a quick whistle with Guentzel reaching in. He was met with resistance from K’Andre Miller and booing target Jacob Trouba.

The Pens fans had already amped up the sing-song “Ig-or, Ig-or, Ig-or!”, chants. While he did his best to block it out, the Rangers struggled in the early going.

That included the Pens getting their top line on against the Zibanejad line. They spent an extended shift in the Rangers zone. Zibanejad, Kreider, Frank Vatrano, Justin Braun and Braden Schneider were pinned in for over two minutes. They even iced the puck twice.

Somehow, the five-man unit survived the near two and a half minute shift without the Penguins getting a single shot through on Shesterkin. A good defensive play from Schneider got a key clear to finally allow them to change.

When the third line came on, Trouba took a heavy hit from Brian Boyle. But it was Boyle who shortly exited and didn’t return. His status for Game Seven is uncertain. Sullivan noted that he was being evaluated for an “upper-body” injury.

On that same shift, Trouba made a good pinch to get a good scoring chance in the slot. But his shot missed wide. It would be a harbinger of things to come for him. To put it mildly, he wasn’t good.

Following that miss, Ryan Lindgren took a Brock McGinn hit. He then lost his footing and went down to the ice. With the warrior clearly in pain, some Pens fans thought it was a good idea to cheer. Utterly ridiculous. Did any of our fans cheer when Crosby left the other night?

I’m only going to say this once. I have zero tolerance for fans who celebrate injuries. If you do, you are an embarrassment. It’s a sport. Not life. I wish more people grasped that concept.

Afterwards, Kevin Rooney earned the game’s first penalty when he interfered with the pesky McGinn. The Pens didn’t do much either their first man-advantage. Shesterkin made a long stop on Malkin.

Then, the reformed combo of Andrew Copp and Motte created a shorthanded chance. After Lindgren sent a tough high shot off the blocker of Domingue, Motte’s hard work led to a Copp shorthanded bid that Domingue denied. He got a little help. Otherwise, it’s a goal.

Following a Rooney block, Alexis Lafreniere got a couple of hits on a shift. Jason Zucker finished a check on Trouba to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd. The Pens made it a point to go after Trouba. It worked.

Off a face-off win from Jeff Carter, the Penguins went to work against the Panarin line with Miller and Trouba. They were relentless. After saves from Shesterkin on McGinn, Marcus Pettersson and Carter, Kasperi Kapanen got a tough backhand on that rebounded to Carter for the game’s first goal with 5:48 remaining.

All five Rangers stood around and watched. Nobody took anyone. It was tremendous pressure from the Pens’ third line who finally got rewarded for their effort.

With under five minutes left, Sullivan got a favorable match-up by getting the Malkin line out versus the Chytil line. It was a mismatch.

After Shesterkin denied  Guentzel point blank, a big Rust hit behind the net forced Chytil to cough up the puck. He passed across for an easy Rust finish that made it 2-0 with 4:12 to go.

Just like that, the Pens scored two goals over a 1:36 span. With the building rocking, the Blueshirts were in the exact same dire situation they were on Wednesday. The biggest difference is it was in enemy territory.

At that point, having seen the continued soft play that has plagued them throughout this series, I wondered if the season would end in a whimper. Had the Pens been able to get the next goal to go up three, it would have.

Domingue made his best save of the period when he was able to poke check Strome to deny his forehand deke in tight. That close. The problem was that despite getting a dozen shots on net, Domingue was making the saves. He wasn’t under duress. It was a lot of one and done.

In the final minute, that third goal almost came. Following a big save on McGinn, Shesterkin was helpless on a wide open Pens’ opportunity. John Marino had the game on his stick. Fortunately, he missed wide with 28 seconds left. It could’ve been lights out had he buried it.

I also tweeted this gem during intermission. How prophetic that proved to be.

The Rangers needed to show urgency. At the start of the second period, we got an answer. Starting to raise their level, they began to win some puck battles which created early looks.

Meanwhile, Shesterkin made the key stops when he had to including a big one on Evan Rodrigues. On what had been a lousy shift by the Panarin line, Lindgren delivered a hard check on Rodrigues along the boards. Unnerved, he retaliated by cross-checking Lindgren right in the face.

They called it two minutes for roughing. While the crowd cried over a good call that had to be made, Zibanejad gave them a better reason to scream. After winning an offensive draw back to Fox, he got open in the slot and buried a Strome feed five seconds into the power play.

Predictably, Sullivan sent his number one unit out following the goal. Shesterkin made a pair of saves on Malkin and Rust. That proved crucial.

Able to get the top line against the Carter line for a shift, the strategy worked for Gallant. On some good sustained pressure, Lindgren worked the puck up for Fox. He then passed across for a wicked Zibanejad one-timer that beat Domingue at 6:21 to tie the score.

What a rocket. Two Zibanejad goals over 1:16 turned the game around with an assist from Rodrigues. That quickly, the game was tied.

A critical point came when after Domingue stopped Kaapo Kakko on a tough shot short side, Zibanejad was under pressure and tried to clear the puck. Instead, he sent it directly out for a delay of game minor.

Shesterkin made a gigantic pad save to deny Guentzel on a tricky tip-in. Following a clear, you couldn’t even feel good thanks to a baffling Rooney tripping minor on Guentzel in the neutral zone.

With the fans going wild, Sullivan took his timeout to give his top power play unit a breather. They had a five-on-three for 67 seconds. Connect and it really could’ve been the beginning of the end.

Instead, the three-man penalty kill unit of Copp, Lindgren and Trouba made some huge defensive plays to hold the Pens to only a long Malkin shot after Zibanejad got out of the box. It was an incredible effort.

Then, Zibanejad got a clean breakaway. His shorthanded bid for a natural hat trick saw his backhand ring off the crossbar and out. That close. The Rangers killed the remainder of the leftover time on the Rooney minor.

A few minutes later, Mike Matheson caught Vatrano up high with an errant stick cutting him. As Vatrano went to the locker room for repairs, a double minor for high-sticking was called on Matheson.

In what amounted to the play of the game, Shesterkin silenced his fans by making a great outlet pass up the ice that sent Zibanejad in on another breakaway. This time, his high shot went off the glove of Domingue right to Kreider for an easy put away to give the Rangers the lead with 6:12 left.

But just when you were getting comfortable, the Rangers failed to cash in on the second part of the double minor. Then, a lousy Trouba turnover allowed Malkin to break in and beat Shesterkin for an unassisted goal that tied it once more less than three minutes later.

Just brutal. Trouba made a bad pass that handcuffed Miller. The puck went behind allowing Malkin to cut in and score his third of the series with 3:24 left.

It could’ve been even worse. Gallant decided to stick his checking line out for a shift. During it, Ryan Reaves absolutely leveled Kapanen from behind. It should’ve been two minutes for boarding. He was down. Luckily, there was no call. I can’t explain how.

On the next face-off in the neutral zone, both Vatrano and Zucker went at each other. Both were sent off for unsportsmanlike conducts with 3:03 to go.

During the four-on-four, each side had chances. Domingue stopped Kreider, who also went way wide on another attempt. Shesterkin denied Guentzel, who always is dangerous due to how he plays. He also missed one wide from a better area.

Strome nearly had one late. But his shot short side was covered up by a shaky Domingue. He had the best opportunities on that line at even strength.

With their season once again hanging in the balance, the Rangers needed to win a period to stay alive. It almost needed overtime. Something I wanted no part of.

Shots were harder to come by. The Pens were the aggressor. They were a bit better on the attack due to pinching their D. Shesterkin continued to get the Ig-or chant. But he never buckled.

There weren’t many clean chances. The best one came when Rust had an open side in the slot. Somehow, he missed. That missed chance came back to haunt the Pens.

The best save Shesterkin made in the third was when he denied a Carter wraparound. He held strong in the most anxiety ridden period of the season.

Domingue had to make two saves on Lafreniere and Kakko. As the clock got closer to the end, it looked like sudden death was destiny on Friday The 13th. Just maybe luck was on the Rangers’ side.

Both Copp and Strome won big face-offs in the defensive zone. Face-offs have been an issue during the series. The Pens still were in control winning 32 of 55. Malkin went 13-and-8. Carter was 11-and-7. Zibanejad won 7 of 17. Chytil actually was their best going 5-and-3. Go figure.

With time winding down, Kapanen sent a shot wide. Then Motte, who replaced Vatrano on the Zibanejad line, made a key defensive play. He got in the way of a Pens’ chance and finished a check on Pettersson. That allowed the Rangers to transition the other way.

Fox moved the puck up for Zibanejad, who gained the Pittsburgh zone. He made a simple drop pass for Kreider and drove to the net.

Kreider let go of a long slap shot that might’ve ticked off someone. It then went off the glove of Domingue, popped in the air and went in for the unbelievable game-winning goal with 1:28 remaining.

Incredible. Improbable. Unthinkable. It was a terrible goal for Domingue to allow at such a crucial moment. Instead of contemplating a nerve racking overtime, the Rangers led 4-3.

Without a timeout, the Pens lifted Domingue for a six-on-four with over a minute to go. Following a wide Malkin shot, a defensive draw resulted in a Fox clear leading Rooney to set up Copp for an empty net goal at 19:33.

Another exhale. This was even better than Game Five. Considering the circumstances, it isn’t easy to come back the way they did. They finally won on the road in this series.

Now, it’s going seven. Can we handle yet another do or die scenario? This one is different. The winner moves on. The loser is left to wonder what went wrong all summer long.

It doesn’t get any bigger. Game Seven is where heroes are made. Regardless whether Crosby can play which doesn’t seem likely, the Pens are formidable. They’ve proven that depending on a third string goalie.

By now, we understand that it won’t come easy. It’s great to have the seventh and deciding game at The Garden. There’ll be five Game Seven’s in the first round. That’s how competitive it is. Three will be played on Saturday. Two on Sunday.

Heart and guts. This is what it’s all about. The Rangers are here because they don’t give up. Now, we find out even more about this group. Let’s try to enjoy it. It’s exciting. Even if it might make some nauseous, it doesn’t get any better than this.

I can’t wait. Let’s Go!!!!!


3rd 🌟 Adam Fox NYR 4 assists (3, 4, 5, 6), points in all 6 games, 1 SOG, 5 attempts, 2 blocks, +1 in 24:46

2nd 🌟 Chris Kreider NYR 2 goals (3, 4) including clutch game-winner with 1:28 left in regulation, 6 SOG, 8 attempts, +2 in 19:26

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad NYR 2 goals (1st, 2nd), 2 assists (4, 5), 6 SOG, +2 in 19:06

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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