By Brian Cazeneuve
Three days after the passing of his mom, Martin St. Louis honored her on Mother's Day by playing his best game as a Ranger since his March deadline trade from Tampa Bay. Buoyed by his opening goal, and 36 saves by Henrik Lundqvist, who played one of his best games as well, New York defeated the Penguins 3-1 to force a seventh game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Fittingly. St. Louis was awarded the First Star of the Game honor.
Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard also scored for the Rangers, who won their seventh straight elimination game at Madison Square Garden while rallying from a 3-1 deficit to tie a series for the first time since 1939. Seemingly spent after a seven-game first round against Philadelphia, and looking almost out of it against Pittsburgh as recently as Game 4, the Rangers played with a renewed purpose that bodes well for their chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference Final.
Here are some thoughts from Game 6:
Penguins-Rangers Game 6 recap | Box score | Highlights
• With his father and sister in attendance, St. Louis started the scoring with one of the most emotional goals of the season. Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman threw a shot on net, and Matt Niskanen's clearing attempt bounced off St. Louis' leg and past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. St. Louis pumped his fists in an uncharacteristically emotive gesture, causing the crowd – which had been wary of his play down the stretch and in the playoffs – to chant his name in appreciation. He retrieved the puck (a practice usually reserved for statistical milestones) and covered his face after returning to the bench. The Rangers' forward, who returned to Montreal after his mother's passing and rushed back in time for New York's Game 5 win in Pittsburgh on Friday, later said, "I knew [my mother] helped me through this. It's been a tough time for my whole family."
The moment wasn't lost on his teammates. "It's probably one of the cooler things I've been a part of in my professional career," said forward Derek Stepan. "The emotion on the goal is something I will never forget. What he's been through in the past couple of games, for him to score a goal and they way he did, is something I will never forget."
• Riding on adrenaline, New York doubled its lead just 2:51 later when Hagelin chased a lead pass down the left side only to have his initial shot blocked by Pens blueliner Rob Scuderi. Hagelin was able to collect the rebound and send a bad-angle backhander between Marc-Andre Fleury's pads. Fleury seemed to be distracted by Brad Richards' drive to the net, and this was another example of a shot he should have been able to stop. For the first four games of this series, it looked as if the demons that had plagued the Penguins goalie as recently as the first-round series against Columbus had disappeared. Now he is either overcompensating or not moving quickly enough on too many shots and simply can't get himself square to the puck. His inconsistency hass to make Pittsburgh worried going into a seventh game.
"The first period hurt us," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "We put ourselves in a bad position early on. We fought hard and tried to get back, but you can't continue to do that in the playoffs. You can't start like that."
• Just as quickly as the Rangers seemed to be thoroughly in control, the Penguins caught a break to get back into the contest: With two minutes left in the first, forward Brandon Sutter flipped a shot from the right boards that was going wide of New York's net, but the puck pinballed off Rangers defensemen John Moore and Kevin Klein before bouncing in. The goal seemed to blunt New York's momentum.
• In quite an exchange of quality chances at either end six minutes into the second period, Lundqvist denied Marcel Goc's breakaway, getting his glove on a backhander and teasing the Pens forward, who had raised his arms in celebration. Later during the same shift, Rangers forward Chris Kreider also had a breakaway backhand try against Fleury. The Pens goalie made the save before Kreider was bowled into him, knocking the puck into the net. The goal was disallowed and Kreider was whistled for goalie interference.
Not long after stopping Goc, Lundqvist again foiled a breakaway, denying Brian Gibbons by stacking the pads. After the save, he skated out of his crease and jabbed his stick in the air. Lundqvist isn't one to celebrate saves in the middle of the game, and his gesture felt more like anger than exultation, as if he was exhorting his teammates to provide better defensive coverage in front of him. Lundqvist has been his team's best player for the better part of a decade, yet he has no championships to show for his efforts. He's always in the conversation as one of the best goalies in the league, and he showed why on Sunday, but at 32, he is clearly playing with added urgency. Ironically, this game marked his 79th straight postseason start for the Rangers, tying an NHL record for consecutive starts for one team, which was set by Fleury.
• Fleury's poor rebound control bit him again with 4:30 left in the second period. Stralman drove a shot from the right point that was deflected by Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot. While Fleury appeared to have made an easy save, his attempt to sweep it into his glove instead of simply smothering the puck gave Brassard a chance to poke it into the net for his fourth goal of the postseason.
• Neither team scored on the power play on Sunday; New York failed in six tries and Pittsburgh whiffed on four, dropping the Pens to a paltry one-for-18, despite having Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Before the game, Pens coach Dan Bylsma offered some thoughts as to why Pittsburgh has been suffering a power outage: "I think in the series so far, we've had the looks and opportunities and chances where we think we can score," he said. "We haven't attacked. Some of our power plays have been possession power plays. We've gotten away from the mindset of attacking and breaking down and shooting the puck."
• Again, Bylsma chose to play Crosby and Malkin together for most of the game. Yes, it's a nuclear option when it works, but when an opponent neutralizes the Penguins' top line, there isn't much firepower left for Pittsburgh to summon. When the team has won titles, it has had a Ron Francis or Joe Mullen on secondary lines. A player such as James Neal seems lost at time without a top gun in the middle.
• The Rangers have never come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series in their 87-year history, nor have they won a series against the Penguins in any of their four previous playoff meetings, but they have rarely had a gust of determination like this. Pittsburgh will have to bring its A game on Tuesday night or the heat on Bylsma will be turned up considerably. According to one report, the team's ownership is no mood for another postseason flameout. Choking away such a commanding lead would add another chapter to the Penguins' growing volume of underachievements.
The Rangers and Penguins will meet in Game 7 in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).