Winning for Marty: Rangers Stave off Elimination with Emotional Performance

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Winning for Marty: Rangers Stave off Elimination with Emotional Performance
USA Today

Marty St. Louis didn't break down in tears on the bench or score a goal and point to the sky.

Marty St. Louis didn't deliver the performance of his life or anything close to it.

Marty St. Louis did everything he could to keep it together Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh about 24 hours after learning his mother, France, had died of a heart attack Thursday.

And that was enough. That was all he had to do. Just his being there was enough for the New York Rangers.

Derick Brassard, who embraced St. Louis on the bench in the final minutes, scored twice as the Rangers played their most inspired game of the postseason in a 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers trail the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 set for Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

 

 

"Today, you play for Marty and his family," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after the game. "That’s the feeling I had going into this."

St. Louis learned the news when the team landed in Pittsburgh on Thursday and immediately went home to Montreal to be with his father, Norman. No one would have begrudged him if he decided to skip the must-win Game 5, as there was nothing that indicated his mother had failing health. It's impossible to ever fully prepare for the death of a parent, but the news hit St. Louis like a sack of bricks to the stomach.

After a conversation with his father, St. Louis said the decision to come back to Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon was an easy one.

"You don’t know how you’re going to feel. You don’t expect these things," St. Louis said. "It was a tough couple days for my family. But I know deep down my mom would want me to play this game. She’d be proud of me coming here and helping as much as I can. The boys have been so supportive. The support I’ve gotten from the New York Rangers, my teammates, my friends and family, friends around the league, old friends, has been unbelievable.

"She was a great lady. The best human being I’ve known in my life. I owed it to her to do it. I know she would want me to do it. It’s a tough day for everyone but we’re going to keep pushing."

 

 

St. Louis had zero goals, zero assists and one shot in 16:19 of ice time. He didn't block a shot and wasn't credited with a hit.

Yet to hear the Rangers tell it, his presence had the biggest impact on the outcome of the game.

In a league that is seeing more statistically driven analysis that offers far sharper insights than what was available as recently as a few years ago, there's still something to be said for the emotion with which hockey is played. This dominant performance wasn't something anyone was forecasting after three straight games in which the Penguins were the faster, better team while the Rangers were losing games with a passive, weak-willed demeanor that left their season on the brink.

No one can say with absolute certainty why the Rangers were crisper than they had been at any point in this series and perhaps the playoffs. Were they due for this after losing three straight games? Were the Penguins due for a bad game after three pretty good ones? Was the Rangers' power play that was 0-of-36 in its past 10 games destined to score two goals in Game 5 against the Penguins?

Maybe those things are true, but the effect of St. Louis walking into the locker room Friday can't be discounted, either. If the Rangers found an extra gear at the sight of a mourning St. Louis and that helped them come together, who are we to disagree with that belief?

"I think you couple that with the backs to the wall and everything, obviously seeing Marty show up after what happened yesterday, it doesn’t surprise you in the game of hockey," said Brad Richards, who was teammates with St. Louis for seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. "So many hockey players have gone through things like that. It’s kind of the way it’s done in our culture, it still means a lot to see him walk in this locker room and know that he stepped away for a few hours to battle with his teammates.

"We talked about it beforehand with the coaching staff that we thanked him for doing it and we wanted to put in a big effort to make it a memorable night for him because obviously he’ll never forget this game.

"We were all seeing it in his eyes; he was just trying to be himself," said Ryan McDonagh, who scored one of the Rangers' two power-play goals. "But you could tell there was just something a little off. But he got focused here and right from the start of the game, was playing a great game. Guys just fed off his emotion. He was talking again and as soon as the hockey puck was dropped, he got into the rhythm and kind of just was able to play. It's an incredible situation, tough to imagine.

"The way he composed himself and played, helped us on the ice in all aspects. It just shows you the kind of guy he is."

Emotional aspects aside, the Rangers executed as well as they could have in what was a dire situation.

Chris Kreider broke the power-play drought with a goal that was partially the result of a diving play by Kreider to get the puck to McDonagh, whose point shot bounced off Marc-Andre Fleury's pads and right to Kreider for the goal.

With the Rangers leading 4-1 with about 90 seconds remaining in the second period, the Penguins were unable to convert on a lengthy five-on-three power play. The Rangers were in shooting lanes, passing lanes and when Evgeni Malkin was sliding toward the net, Brian Boyle made a great play to block a shot and clear the zone.

It's the type of effort that the Rangers must bottle and bring into Game 6 if they are to push this series to a Game 7. The Rangers were out-everything'd on home ice in Games 3 and 4, so it will take an improved effort to push the Penguins to the brink.

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It also may take something from Rick Nash. Despite all the positives that came out of this game for the Rangers, Nash only mustered four shots and a secondary assist on an empty-net goal with 2:29 remaining.

Maybe this showing by the Rangers was meant to happen. Maybe it was the result of a group coming together over the tragic loss by St. Louis.

"For the short amount of time I’ve been here, the quality of people we have in here is unbelievable," St. Louis said. "Obviously in a tough time like this, the support I’ve gotten…I didn’t want to be a distraction. I just wanted to pull out a gutsy win. The boys played tremendous. Some guys stepped up really big tonight. That’s how you stay alive."

One final note: The next game of this series is Sunday—Mother's Day.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All quotes via MSG Network.

All statistics via NHL.com.

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