First, a grieving Martin St. Louis decided to rejoin his teammates for Game Five against the Pittsburgh Penguins 24 hours after his mother had passed away and he had flown to Montreal to be with his father. Then the Rangers actually opened the scoring Friday night with their first power play goal in ten games, and followed a bit later with another power play tally. And before the fifth game of this best-of-seven series was complete, both Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello had totaled thee points apiece.
Finally, when the buzzer sounded signaling the end to Game Five at the CONSOL Energy Center the Rangers had stared down playoff elimination with a resounding, and emotional, 5-1 victory over the Penguins.
Now trailing this second-round series three games to two, the Rangers will look to keep their season going Sunday night when they host the Penguins in Game Six.
"It's going to be exciting, but we just want to come back here for Game Seven," said Brassard, who had two goals and an assist Friday. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, like tonight. It's going to be the same in Game Six."
It was an inspired performance from start to finish by a desperate Rangers team Friday, made all the more emotional by St. Louis' decision to rejoin the club in time to dress for Game Five after learning of his mother's death upon arriving in Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon and immediately jetting to Montreal to be with his family. Though St. Louis did not record a point in Friday's victory, his commitment to the team was inspiring, and his teammates were as moved by his pre-game presence in the locker room as he was by the outpouring of support from the players and the entire Rangers organization.
"It was a tough couple of days, but I know deep down my mother wanted me to play this game, and she'd be proud of me for coming here to help as much as I can," an emotional St. Louis said following the game. "I am glad we were able to get this win. I know (my father) is proud, and my mother is proud of me right now."
"We were all seeing it in his eyes," shared Ryan McDonagh, who had a goal and an assist Friday. "He was trying to be himself, but you could tell there was something a little off. (But) he got focused here, and right from the start of the game he was playing a great game and guys just fed off his emotion. It's tough to imagine the way he composed himself and played, just shows the kind of guy he is."
Head coach Alain Vigneault praised both St. Louis and the rest of the players on the team for how special their bond is, and Chris Kreider noted that "we didn't play this game for ourselves, we played it for Marty and the St. Louis family."
Added Brassard, "It's not easy, honestly. You don't want that to happen to anyone. When we landed at the airport, we had to go (and leave St. Louis behind to return to Montreal), but I bet you if we could have gone with him the whole team would have."
Also inspiring, in a more game-related way, was the play of Henrik Lundqvist who was extremely sharp right from the get-go. His save on Sidney Crosby's point-blank redirection of a Paul Martin centering feed 12 minutes into the game set the tone that Lundqvist was not going to go quietly into the off season. When the Penguins crashed his crease and were allowed to pile bodies on top of him before and after whistles, Lundqvist remained calm and stout between the pipes, turning in a clutch 31-save outing.
In desperate need of a good start after a sloppily-played 4-2 loss Wednesday in Game Four at The Garden, the Rangers put the Penguins back on their heels for much of the opening period. Awarded a power play 8:44 into the game when Robert Bortuzzo--back in the lineup for the once-again-injured Brooks Orpik--was called for a delay of game penalty, the Rangers responded for the first time in this series, scoring their first power play goal since Benoit Pouliot's first period man-advantage tally in Game Two of the opening round against the Flyers.
Kreider made a beautiful diving play to swat a loose puck back to the left point where McDonagh hammered a shot on net. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the pad save, but Kreider hopped on the rebound and banked the puck off Fleury's leg and over the goal line at 9:36 giving the Rangers a well-deserved 1-0 lead. The goal was Kreider's first of the playoffs, coming in just his second game since returning from surgery on his left hand in late March. It was also New York's first power play goal in 37 opportunities.
"It's hard when you see that statistic, but it's nice when you finally get one," Kreider said of snapping the power play schneid. "All that stuff is building up, and now you can point to tangible success. It was huge, really important for us."
The Rangers grabbed a 2-0 lead at 15:23 of the first when Brassard went hard to the net and slipped the rebound of Zuccarello's shot past Fleury into the back of the cage, his first goal since the overtime winner in Game One of this series at the CONSOL Energy Center. Brassard's goal came on New York's 15th shot of the first period--they would finish with 17 in the period--the same total they had in all of Game Four.
Pittsburgh showed some life early in the second period, and Evgeni Malkin's incredible individual effort cut the Rangers lead in half just 3:23 into the period. Malkin bulled to the net with the puck, splitting the defense pair of McDonagh and Dan Girardi, before having his shot denied by Lundqvist. However Malkin chased down his own rebound and beat Lundqvist from a bad angle for his sixth goal of the playoffs and third of this series.
Instead of wilting under the pressure the Penguins were applying, the Rangers answered back four minutes later with a goal of their own. Zuccarello, with a defender draped on his back, made a behind the back pass to Anton Stralman to start the scoring play. Stralman's shot created a rebound in front, and Brassard roofed his second attempt high into the cage at 7:58, restoring the Rangers' two-goal advantage. The goal was his second of the game and third of the playoffs.
"Tonight our line we just tried to step up," noted Brassard. "Our backs were against the wall and I don't think we were good enough in either Game Three or Game Four. Our goalie can't stop everything every night, so a night like tonight when we score more than two it's going to give confidence to our team."
Seconds later the Penguins were called for a too many men on the ice penalty, and after an offensive zone faceoff win, the Rangers scored again on the power play. This time McDonagh netted his first of the post-season, blasting a shot past Fleury with Pouliot providing the screen in front at 8:48, just 50 seconds after Brassard had made it 3-1.
Kevin Klein scored his first of the post-season, into an empty net, with 2:29 to play to close out the scoring.
Along with scoring two power play goals, the Rangers more than held their own in the other end of the special teams Friday, killing off all four Penguin power plays. Included in that success was a crucial 1:23 worth of a 5-on-3 Penguins power play late in the second period with Brassard and Girardi in the box.
Brian Boyle, Marc Staal, and McDonagh were on teh ice for the entire two-man disadvantage, limiting Pittsburgh to only one shot on goal. Boyle's play was exemplary as he blocked shots, got his stick in the way of passes, won board battles, and generally disrupted everything the Penguins were trying to do while the two defensemen guarded the front of Lundqvist's crease.
This complete all-around effort will be needed again on Sunday night where the Rangers again try and save their season, while attempting to win on home ice for the first time in this series.