The New York Rangers fought off elimination in impressive fashion Friday night in Pittsburgh, defeating the Penguins 5-1 to force a Game 6 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Pittsburgh now leads the series 3-2 heading back to the Big Apple for Game 6 on Sunday.
The blowout victory not only prolongs the Rangers' season, but also likely provided some solace for an emotional Martin St. Louis, whose mother passed away on Thursday, per SportsCenter:
Rangers winger Martin St. Louis will play tonight vs the Penguins in Game 5, despite the unexpected death of his mother yesterday.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 9, 2014
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault addressed St. Louis' situation prior to puck drop, with his comments being relayed by the New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis:
It was obviously a very, very quiet bus ride from the airport to the hotel...I think that says a lot about him, but it also says, I think, a lot about his teammates, that he would want to be here to play.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the dubious history New York overcame in the process:
Of the last 7 series that the Rangers have trailed 3-1, they lost the series in 5 games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2014
Derick Brassard was the star for New York, recording six hits, one assist and scoring a pair of goals to propel the Rangers in enemy territory. Meanwhile, on the other side, Penguins star Sidney Crosby saw his struggles continue as he finished with just three shots on goal.
In the crease, New York's Henrik Lundqvist clearly won the battle, saving 31 shots for the game and providing a huge lift for the Rangers early on.
|(2) New York Rangers||2||2||1||5|
|(1) Pittsburgh Penguins||0||1||0||1|
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Rangers turned up the intensity to start Game 5, firing shots on net and constantly putting pressure on the Penguins.
The breakthrough moment came midway through the opening period when New York cashed in on a power play for the first time in the series.
Rangers beat writer Andrew Gross noted the statistical impact:
Rangers lead 1-0 and Rangers PP is now 4 for 45 in the postseason. #Progress— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) May 9, 2014
The Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan pointed out New York's much-improved energy in the first period:
Rangers have 10 shots on goal in 10:47 after registering 15 in Game 4. Early, but feels like we're going to NY for Game 6 on Sunday— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) May 9, 2014
Brassard would double the Rangers' lead with under five minutes to play in the period as New York:
They listened: Offensive zone faceoff win and Brassard bangs home a rebound at the crease for 2-0 Rangers lead at 15:23 of first.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) May 9, 2014
The Rangers recorded 17 total shots on goal in the first period, scoring twice.
But after making some adjustments, the Penguins cut into the deficit at the 3:23 mark in the second period as Evgeni Malkin scored a ridiculous goal from an impossible angle.
The eye-popping goal marked his sixth of the playoffs.
But just when it appeared that Pittsburgh had reignited the crowd and seized momentum, the Rangers struck back quickly with two goals in a 50-second span to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Brassard's second score of the game made it 3-1, while Ryan McDonagh scored his first of the postseason on a power play to extend the lead.
ESPN radio host Dave Rothenberg was right on cue with a sarcastic nod to New York's power-play prowess:
I think it's fair to say the #Rangers Power Play is nearly unstoppable.— Dave Rothenberg (@RothenbergESPN) May 10, 2014
After surrendering nearly as many goals as they gave up in the previous four games combined, Pittsburgh was unable to recover in the third period, failing to get the puck past Lundqvist.
Although the Penguins are still in the driver's seat to win this series and have already won two games in New York, the Rangers clearly can't be counted out.
With New York's power play (2-of-3) finally coming to life on Friday, Pittsburgh must get back to the drawing board defensively and find a way to strike early on the other end in Game 6. The Rangers were able to capture momentum with a fast start in Game 5, and a similar start could propel the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals this weekend.
Having outscored the Rangers 6-2 in the two previous games at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins will hit the road with tremendous confidence this weekend despite letting a golden opportunity slip away in Game 5.
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