Cross Checks: Martin St. Louis

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsMartin St. Louis has just one assist in his past seven games and hasn't scored a goal in 12 games.
Martin St. Louis will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but at this point, a new contract is on the back burner.

It’s clear that the New York Rangers veteran winger is in deal-with-that-later mode about his expiring contract.

"I don’t know, I’m focused on my play right now, usually you do that and the rest takes care of itself," St. Louis said Tuesday after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

Right now, St. Louis says his focus is on getting out of his slump. Entering Tuesday night’s game, he had just one assist in his past seven games and hadn’t scored a goal in 12 games.

"I’m staying positive, and I know it’s going to come back," the 39-year-old said. "Confidence is a thing that comes and goes, and you have to fight to get it back, you can’t just wait for it to come back. It’s an everyday process, I have to stay on top of myself, try to get that swagger back."

He doesn’t need anybody else to point out his slump; he’s hard enough on his himself.

"Nobody likes slumps, but they make you really enjoy the good times," St. Louis said. "It’s adversity. It’s like anything else, not just in hockey, you have to put your big-boy pants on and go to work.

"I know I’m a streaky player, goal-scoring-wise; you get that one and I know I’m going to get more. It’s staying with the process. If you’re not frustrated with it, there’s something wrong with you. We’re competitors, I’m a competitor. They’re not fun times, but they’re times you find out about yourself."

#ESPNplayerNHL: Lightning's best?

July, 22, 2014
Vincent LecavalierDouglas Jones/USA TODAY Sports

Attention, Lightning fans: We need to hear from you.

We want to know whom you consider the face of the Tampa Bay franchise.

The team has played 21 seasons, won one Stanley Cup and made seven postseason appearances.

Which player has meant the most to the team during that time?

Is the current leader of the team, Steven Stamkos, already the ultimate franchise player? Are the heroes of the not-so-distant past -- Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards -- still the Lightning's biggest stars?

Now it's time for you to vote. Who is the Lightning's franchise player?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, hit us up on Twitter @ESPN_NHL using the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.
LOS ANGELES -- Just call them the Comeback Kings.

For the second straight game, the Los Angeles Kings stunned the New York Rangers with a manic and frenzied come-from-behind victory, knocking off the Blueshirts with a 5-4 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead as both clubs head back to New York for Games 3 and 4. The Kings have not led in regulation at any point throughout the first two games of Stanley Cup finals, and yet they won both contests.

Kings captain Dustin Brown scored the winning goal, snapping a 4-4 draw in double overtime to end what was a wildly entertaining playoff match that spanned more than four hours and featured a little bit of everything.

The Rangers, who squandered a 2-0 lead in Game 1 Wednesday night, held another 2-0 lead Saturday, a 3-1 and 4-2 advantage as well, but they couldn’t shut the door on the feisty Kings.

The Kings refused to go quietly despite staring down a 4-2 deficit in the third period, but their third goal did not come without a bit of the controversy.

Dwight King tipped one in for a goal that ignited a plucky Kings squad intent on staging another comeback, but both defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist were livid after the play, arguing with the nearest official about King’s contact with Lundqvist in the crease -- contact that they clearly felt impeded Lundqvist’s ability to make a save.

You could sense the Rangers start to unravel from there, with the Kings buzzing, the crowd getting into it, and the (dreadful) ice tilting in L.A.’s favor. So it was no surprise when leading playoff goal-scorer, and ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik tied the game at 7:36 with his 13th playoff goal this spring.

Rangers forward Chris Kreider has a pair of Grade-A chances in a enthralling overtime period, but couldn't find the back of the net.

Fast and furious: Just as they did in Game 1, the Kings made a big push in the second period. Los Angeles cut the Rangers’ 2-0 lead in half when Jarret Stoll buried the puck into an open net with Lundqvist down on his rear after making an initial save. Martin St. Louis continued his terrific spring, one-timing a shot past Jonathan Quick on the power-play to reclaim a two-goal Rangers lead -- his seventh goal of these playoffs. But when the Kings threatened again, pulling within a goal for the second time on Willie Mitchell’s man-up marker at 14:39, the Rangers made sure to snuff out the surge quickly. The Blueshirts responded in just 11 seconds with a goal from Derick Brassard to take a 4-2 lead into the third period. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that 11-second span was the quickest between two goals scored in a Stanley Cup finals game in 67 years.

Déjà vu: Stop me if this sounds familiar: Kings look sloppy with the puck (granted, the ice also appeared horrendous) and an opportunistic Rangers squad build a 2-0 first-period lead. The Rangers got on the board with defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s hard slapper from the left point at 10:48 of the first, a goal that was created by hard forechecking pressure that forced Game 1 hero Justin Williams to turn the puck over deep in his own zone. A flubbed pass from defenseman Matt Greene later in the period resulted in a sequence of scoring chances for New York that was capped by Mats Zuccarello’s rebound goal at the right post with 7:17 remaining in the period. The Rangers took a two-goal lead in Game 1, but the Kings came charging back for a 3-2 overtime win.

Surprising scratch: Though Kings coach Darryl Sutter said veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr would “probably play” and the 34-year-old himself admitted he was ready to return to the lineup after missing more than a month with a knee injury, Regehr was scratched for the second straight game this series. Though he took part in the pregame warmups, Greene remained in the starting lineup instead. Meanwhile, John Moore returned to bolster the Rangers’ back end after serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise in the Eastern Conference finals.
NEW YORK -- Derek Stepan still can’t even eat solid food. He won’t be indulging in anything of the sort for at least another six weeks. He’s still not sure if he’ll be able to eat the meal at his own wedding this summer. He’s learned to get acquainted with the blender, and he’s willing to get creative.

Broken jaw and all, he’s headed to the Stanley Cup finals.

[+] EnlargeDerek Stepan
AP ImagesDerek Stepan can't even eat solid food yet, but he still played a critical role in sending the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals.
The 23-year-old center has become another one of hockey’s prime examples of toughness personified, as he returned to the New York Rangers lineup in Game 5, just four days after undergoing surgery to have a plate inserted into his jaw, and played a critical role in helping the club advance to its first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1994.

All the pain and discomfort since he sustained the suspension-earning hit from Brandon Prust all seemed worth it to Stepan, who still couldn’t help but smile when recounting the final moments of the team’s 1-0 win in Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"That's a cool feeling,” he said. “I've been here four years and I've never had a feeling quite like that. That's something I won't forget for sure."

Stepan, who notched two goals in his first game back from injury in game 5 on Tuesday, lauded the team’s medical staff for helping him get back into the series. He said that he had to adjust to the hulking, bright green facial protector attached to his helmet, but got used to it after a few days.

As of now, he’s feeling all right. About as good as anyone else in the playoffs, it seems.

“Yeah, not too bad,” he said.

The euphoria of victory was enough to leave Stepan in a forgiving mood at least. After the game, he seemed to harbor no ill will towards his former teammate Prust, who was slapped with a two-game ban for the hit that broke Stepan’s jaw.

“I’m not going to hold it against him,” Stepan said, “He feels bad about it, he knows it was late. We’ll just move on.”

• • •

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said he didn’t know what to do when the Prince of Wales trophy was awarded at center-ice after the Rangers’ Eastern Conference final victory. He deferred to the team’s elder statesman, and de facto captain, Brad Richards.

Richards told him not to touch it.

Back in 2004, when the 33-year-old veteran won a Stanley Cup Championship with Tampa Bay along with teammate Martin St. Louis, he was instructed not to touch it, as per hockey superstition.

Since it worked out so well for them 10 years ago, he continued to heed the ritual.

"Well, I just -- Marty and I have been there, [Daniel] Carcillo, unfortunately, just wasn't dressed, so we didn't put his opinion in, but no one else was dressed that's been there. We won it without touching it, and it was instructed that way when we won,” Richards explained. “If half the team was there, maybe we would have had more debate on the ice, but it wasn't much debate. We're not doing it, and that's where we went with it."
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers did not shrink away from the spotlight when it came to test their mettle in the NHL’s most daunting, raucous road venue Saturday afternoon. No, the Rangers finally put to bed the notion that the Bell Centre was their own personal house of horrors as they stifled a boisterous crowd and sent fans scrambling for the exits in a commanding 7-2 rout of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Despite having recorded just one win in their last 10 games in the arena, revered for its rabid crowd and ample acoustics, the Rangers dispatched the Habs with ease, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead and chasing goaltender Carey Price from net after the second period in their fourth consecutive playoff win.

That stunned silence that settled over the crowd must have felt like music to their ears.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMartin St. Louis had an emotional homecoming.
“I wish we could play every game here,” said veteran center Brad Richards, whose goal with less than 12 seconds remaining in the second period served as the dagger for both Price and the Habs. “It’s a great building.”

The Rangers had a little bit of everything in their series-opening victory in Montreal, including yet another huge moment for second-round series hero Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis, who inspired his entire Rangers team when he returned to play in Game 5 last week just one day following the death of his mother, scored the game’s first goal just 4:35 into play, converting a beautiful feed from fourth-line center Dominic Moore.

It’s an emotional homecoming for St. Louis, considering the last time he was here was last Thursday, when he flew home from Pittsburgh to grieve with his family. The St. Louis family will host the entire Rangers team as they attend the funeral for France St. Louis, who died of a heart attack at age 63, on Sunday.

About 10 to 12 of the Rangers went to her wake Friday night in what continues to be an emotional week for St. Louis and his family. Coach Alain Vigneault even texted the 38-year-old veteran afterward, just to make sure he was doing OK.

“It’s been very emotional for our whole group, and he’s handled it in an incredible way that has probably helped our team come closer together,” Vigneault said.

St. Louis appeared elated after the goal, and after the game, he discussed how grateful he is to have the support he has received over the last nine days.

“The guys are behind me and supporting me, and their effort was unbelievable,” he said. “We feel really close right now and we're trying to keep feeding off that.”

St. Louis was named the game’s first star -- and a huge stick tap to the Bell Centre crowd here, for even a disgruntled Habs fan base cheered him heartily after their team lost -- but there were so many for the Rangers who chipped in for the type of resounding win that is sure to keep the team’s confidence chugging along.

Moore, who is no stranger to heartbreak himself after losing wife, Katie, to a rare form of liver cancer last year, was absolutely sensational in the opening frame. He made two jaw-dropping feeds to set up the Rangers’ first two goals, helping build a critical 2-0 lead that put the hapless Habs on their heels.

The Blueshirts were 3-for-7 on power plays in Game 1.

Rick Nash finally scored his first goal of the 2014 playoffs, defenseman Ryan McDonagh finished with one goal and three assists, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continued his dominant play.

Lundqvist, who has posted a 1.25 GAA and .961 save percentage in the last four games, may even get a respite now from those persisting questions about his struggles at Bell Centre, where, before Saturday, he had not played in more than two years. He had not won a game in the building since 2009.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen him play the past few weeks," Brian Boyle said, “but he’s been on another planet.”

The entire Rangers team played pretty otherworldly Saturday, outskating the Habs from start to finish. It just may be that Montreal has not faced an opponent yet this postseason that boasts the same sort of threatening speed element as the Habs. On Saturday, they did not handle that well.

“We got our asses kicked all over the ice,” Habs forward Rene Bourque told reporters after the game, also calling it Montreal’s “worst playoff game by far.”

The Rangers were expecting to carry over the type of inspired, purposeful play that allowed them to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2, but it would have been hard to imagine such a drubbing, especially against one of the best goaltenders thus far this postseason.

Price, who did not speak after the game, was pulled after surrendering four goals on 20 shots. He was replaced by backup goaltender Peter Budaj, though Budaj couldn’t do too much to stop the onslaught, either.

"Yeah, I'd say surprised,” defenseman Marc Staal said about the Rangers’ seven goals against Montreal. “Not surprised in the way we played and the way we wanted to play.

"We had a great start to the game, set that tempo right from the beginning, and were able to convert on a couple, which is big in a road rink, especially here," Staal said. "We were able to carry that through."
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers will be making their second Eastern Conference finals appearance in the past three seasons when they square off against the Montreal Canadiens to start Round 3 on Saturday afternoon. The Habs have home-ice advantage, however, and the Bell Centre -- one of hockey’s most raucous and intimidating venues -- has not been historically kind to the Blueshirts. The Rangers have won only one of the past 10 games in Montreal, but they hope to reverse their fortune in the postseason.

Respect factor: A few different Canadiens players felt they were "disrespected" by the favored Boston Bruins in the two clubs’ second-round series, but that won’t be the case when they clash with the Rangers for a best-of-seven set that decides who will advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals. As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in advance of the series opener, "We respect Montreal quite a bit." That sort of diplomacy from Vigneault, who also called the Habs "favorites" in the series, isn’t surprising considering he got his start as a head coach in Montreal back in 1997. He is close with Montreal head coach Michel Therrien, so don’t expect the same sort of pointed barbs between the two coaches that we all witnessed with Therrien and Bruins coach Claude Julien.

Ghostbusters: Prior to the Rangers’ first regular-season game in Montreal this season, Vigneault felt the need to dispel any myths surrounding the team’s ominous record at Bell Centre. According to veteran center Brad Richards, Vigneault cracked a joke to the team, assuring it there are "no ghosts" in the building and that they were fully capable of leaving Montreal with a win. Turns out, he was right, as backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout against the Habs in Montreal on Nov. 16, snapping an eight-game losing streak. Can Henrik Lundqvist exorcise the demons as well? The former Vezina Trophy winner has not played in the building since Jan. 12 but has been stellar so far this postseason for the Rangers.

Nash slump: Rangers winger Rick Nash has yet to score a goal during the 2014 playoffs, and you can bet that the dispiriting skid has taken its toll on the big-money man. Nash has played well away from the puck and has been an effective penalty killer, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has not been able to find the back of the net. He has scored only one playoff goal in two seasons as a Blueshirt, though he said his scoring woes are made manageable by the fact that the team is still winning. Said Nash: "The team’s big picture is way bigger than my individual struggles."

Heavy heart: Martin St. Louis returns to his native Montreal for the first time since he made an impromptu visit last Thursday after learning of his mother’s sudden death. France St. Louis died of a heart attack at age 63 last week, a tragic loss that rocked St. Louis and his Rangers teammates. St. Louis returned to play just one day after her death, however, a courageous decision that inspired the team and changed the course of its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire team will be on hand to attend France’s funeral, which will be a private service held in Montreal on Sunday.

Dangerous defenseman: The Rangers had to neutralize two of the game’s most talented tandem of forwards during Round 2, and now they will be tasked with containing the league’s most dynamic defenseman in Montreal’s P.K. Subban. The 25-year-old defenseman has had a sensational playoff run thus far with four goals and 12 points in 11 games for the Habs.

The New York Rangers will face the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals beginning on Saturday.

The Blueshirts’ opponent was settled after Montreal’s 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Beantown. Though the Bruins were the heavy favorite, picked by many as the front-runner for the Stanley Cup Championship, the Habs stunned the home crowd with their series-ending victory.

This will be the first time the two clubs meet in a playoff series since 1996, when the Rangers dispatched the Canadiens in six games during the first round of the postseason.

What to make of the matchup?

Well, the Habs will have home-ice advantage and that doesn’t bode well for the Rangers.

New York has been atrocious at the Bell Centre in recent years, a troublesome eight-game losing streak that was only snapped when backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout back on Nov. 16.

Talbot also started the Rangers’ other regular-season game in Montreal this season. With a postseason berth already secured for the Rangers, coach Alain Vigneault opted to rest some of his starters, including Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Martin St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist in the final game before the postseason.

Prior to that, the Rangers had been shutout five times in eight games against the Habs in hostile territory.

Game 1 of the series falls on Saturday, 1 p.m. at the Bell Centre, with Game 2 tentatively slated for Monday evening. The series will then shift back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4 next week.

Beyond the Rangers’ conspicuous struggles at the Bell Centre, the Habs are probably the better matchup for New York. The Rangers struggled to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins physicality but the Canadiens embrace a similar identity to Vigneault’s Rangers’ squad, one that embraces speed, skill and depth.

The Habs have all of those things, plus the type of goaltender that will be a great challenge for Lundqvist. Though Lundqvist has been lights-out as of late, netminder Carey Price has also been terrific.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Price has stopped 149 of the last 151 shots faced from the Rangers.

Combine Price’s steadiness in net, Montreal’s skilled set of forwards and perhaps the most dynamic defensemen in the game in P.K. Subban, and you have a very dangerous team.

One league insider told recently that Subban was by far “the best playoff player” thus far this spring, and he lived up to the billing during the team’s second-round set against the Bruins.

The 25-year-old blue-liner, who has at times endured scrutiny for his defensive liabilities, has four goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games for the Habs this spring. His electricity, passion and confidence makes him one of the most compelling players to watch and one of the most dangerous threats on the ice.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are coming off an inspirational comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in their second-round set against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Though the team went through stretches where it appeared tired and ragged, the club has played its best hockey over the last three games.

Neither team was a front-runner for the Eastern Conference finals, but both the Rangers and the Habs appear to be the type of clubs peaking at the right time and playing with plenty of emotion.

Buckle up. This should be fun.
PITTSBURGH -- The emotions following the New York Rangers’ historic 2-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins could not be contained.

One by one, players left the ice, barreling into the dressing room in haste to celebrate, screaming in elation and hollering with the sort of exuberance one might expect following one of the most dramatic turnarounds in franchise history.

Even team owner James Dolan couldn’t suppress his giddy grin as he was ushered down the victor’s hallway following the series-ending win. He had plenty to smile about.

[+] EnlargeNew York Rangers
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe Ranger rallied around St. Louis and took this series from the Penguins.
For the first time since the club’s inception, the Rangers rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to upset an opponent in Game 7. And for the second time in three years, the team is headed to the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s a pretty fun thing we’ve got going on right now,” said Brian Boyle, who scored the first goal of the game following a beautiful passing sequence from his fourth-line teammates. “We don’t want it to end.”

More stunning than the Rangers’ ability to avoid elimination in three straight games against superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pens was the club’s utter transformation in wake of a tragedy that occurred between Games 4 and 5.

That, of course, was the turning point of the series, perhaps the most meaningful 24 hours in the team’s whole season, when the Rangers banded together to support veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who found out upon arrival in Pittsburgh on Thursday that his mother had died from a heart attack.

His courageous and heartfelt return to the ice in Game 5, less than 24 hours after her death, inspired the Rangers, but that was just one game. The Rangers were able to carry over that raw emotion, that passion and purpose, into Game 6 is well, a win that became even more meaningful because St. Louis scored the all-important first goal and because the game fell on Mother’s Day.

When it came down to Game 7, the Rangers did not need to manufacture any inspiration or energy. They had that in abundance and, unlike the pressure-burdened Penguins, they played with verve and joy and had a hell of a time in punching their ticket to the conference finals, in which they will meet the winner of Game 7 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

“The whole last seven days. I don’t know if I’ve ever been with a group of guys that have been through what we’ve been through,” veteran center Brad Richards said. “Nobody gave us a chance. Marty’s situation falls upon us. It wasn’t a good feeling after Game 4. To have this feeling, after all that, it shows how fun this group is to be around. Everyone’s willing to do their part. It’s unbelievable.”

The daunting two-game series deficit was never treated as a non-starter for the Blueshirts. Led by veterans such as Richards and St. Louis, who won a Stanley Cup championship together in 2004 in Tampa, the situation was instead treated as a challenge.

The belief was there inside that room and the leadership was calm and steady in showing everyone else the way. Richards, as he has done all season but especially since the departure of former captain Ryan Callahan, stepped up in every situation, saying what needed to be said, even when it wasn't pleasant to say or easy to hear, and leading by example on the ice as well.

“I gotta say. We lost our captain. We brought in Marty [St. Louis], but other guys stepped to the front and assumed more in bigger roles, and bigger leadership,” Vigneault said. “In this series, we had said we needed a lot of bus drivers and we had a lot of guys driving the bus.”

The 34-year-old Richards, who has assumed the rule of de facto captain, scored the game-winner in the second-period, a critical man-up marker that quickly sieved the mounting pressure the Pens had built following Jussi Jokinen’s tying goal less than four minutes prior.

It was just another clutch performance in a long list of special moments for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and it kept his pristine record in Game 7s untarnished. The veteran center has won all seven in which he has played.

Suffice it to say that franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was simply exceptional in continuing his dominance in elimination games as well, outplaying every other player on the ice.

In a series that came down to three veritable game-changers: Lundqvist vs. Crosby and Malkin, the former Vezina Trophy winner edged the Penguins' talented tandem by a country mile. Following up a 36-save effort in Game 6, Lundqvist finished Tuesday with 35. And of course he was at his absolute best with the Penguins bearing down in the final minutes of the game, even when he was flailing in the crease, trying to preserve a one-goal lead without his stick.

Crosby was held to just one goal all series. Malkin was more effective (three goals, four assists) but couldn’t deliver the type of goal the Penguins needed most in a winner-takes-all Game 7 at home.

The Rangers entered the series as underdogs, but they emerged as winners because they were the better team. They exploited their balance and structure and heart to beat a team that has two of the best forwards in the world.

Now, they move on to the next round -- a remarkable feat.

Few people expected them to be here. Who knows what they are capable of now?

“We’re in the final four now,” Richards said. “I don’t know of any teams in the history of the NHL that get this far that don’t think they can win it.”
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers made history Tuesday night, rallying back from a 3-1 series hole to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 with a 2-1 win that earned them a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

It was the first time in franchise history the club had surmounted such a deficit, and in doing so, the Blueshirts punched their ticket for their second conference finals appearance in the past three seasons.

In a battle of the stars it was the Rangers who had the edge when all was said and done, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist besting both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Despite constant pressure from a desperate Pens squad, Lundqvist was a wall in making 35 stops to secure yet another win for his Blueshirts while avoiding elimination. He didn't even surrender a goal in the final six minutes of the game when, despite being without his stick during a frenzied shift, he left the Penguins gobsmacked with frustration.

Crosby finished the series, and the 2014 playoffs, with just one goal.

Big-goal Brad: Hard to imagine that at this point last spring, veteran center Brad Richards was watching games from the press box as a healthy scratch. The former Conn Smythe winner added to his already-lengthy list of clutch goals with a key power-play marker in the second that stalled a threatening Penguins push and allowed the Rangers to reclaim a one-goal lead. Richards was set up for the goal by a brilliant, no-look feed from good friend and teammate Martin St. Louis, who was the hero of Game 6. Richards’ goal snuffed out a ton of momentum that the Penguins had wrangled following Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying rebound goal less than four minutes prior. Richards, one of the team’s most vocal and experienced leaders, entered Tuesday’s action with an untarnished 6-0 record in Game 7’s during his career.

First-goal foreshadow: Before the game, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the significance of a strong start and the game’s first goal. Considering the team that scored first won each of the first six games of the series, Vigneault answered: “It seems to be an important trend in this series.” Well, the Rangers fourth-line got them on the board to deflate a Penguins crowd that was raucous to start. A beautiful little passing sequence resulted in Brian Boyle’s goal at 5:25 of the first. Granted, the Penguins gave up an odd-man rush, but that was the sort of shot that Marc-Andre Fleury really should have been able to stop. The Penguins picked up their pace, controlling play for much of the remainder of the first frame but Lundqvist yielded nothing, turning away all 10 shots faced in the period.

Changes coming? Considering the team's embarrassing collapse from a two-game series lead, it seems fairly certain that change may be coming for a Penguins team that has underachieved yet again. Both coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero are likely to endure quite a bit of scrutiny in the coming days as the future direction of the team, and its leadership, is assessed.

NEW YORK -- To see Martin St. Louis' exultant smile and boisterous celebration following his first-period goal was to see a player, and a man, so overcome with emotion the past 72 hours he couldn’t help but unleash his excitement. To see the way the New York Rangers reacted, and responded, to that special moment is to see a team for which hope is still very much alive.

Rest and recovery is one thing -- the Rangers needed that, too -- but it is becoming more and more apparent that the alternate phases of tragedy and triumph over the past three days has galvanized a club that looked absolutely dispirited and defeated after Game 4. With Sunday night’s 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers have now avoided elimination twice and forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Of course it was St. Louis who scored the game’s first goal, an achievement that was truly fitting as a tribute considering Game 6 fell on Mother’s Day. St. Louis lost his mother, France St. Louis, to a heart attack on Thursday and returned just one day later to play in Game 6. It was a feat that baffled many players and touched them all.

Sunday, St. Louis brought his father, Normand, and sister, Isabelle, to the game -- a decision that he anticipated would help “the grieving process.” After he scored his third goal of the playoffs, he scooped up the puck. He said he planned to deliver it to his father.

“It’s a puck that has a significance for everyone that has been supportive of me and my family,” St. Louis said.

The fact that it was St. Louis that scored the game’s all-important first goal was critical. When the crowd started chanting his name during his first shift of the game, the support was palpable. When the puck went past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury at 3:34, the fans went berserk. It provided the type of boost that no one else probably could have. With St. Louis’ teammates witnessing the type of turmoil and anguish he has endured, they could not have been happier to see him experience some temporary reprieve.

[+] EnlargeRangers
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesMartin St. Louis, whose mother passed away last Thursday, netted the Rangers' first goal in a Game 6 win on Mother's Day.
“We set the tone right away and when Marty scores that goal, it was such a beautiful moment,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was sensational in making a playoff-high 36 saves. “It got really emotional to watch that and see him and what he’s been through, and I think the entire team was feeding on that moment. The entire building, it was such a great energy in here.”

The Rangers appeared energized and aggressive. Trailing 3-2 in the series, their desperation level was higher than the type of urgency Pittsburgh displayed. Even when the Penguins surged or threatened, including a key power play in the second period, the Blueshirts snuffed it out.

Despondent after a dreadful Game 4, their second straight loss at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have since rattled off two decisive victories. The team went from reeling to re-energized, and the jolt has translated to a tied series.

“That’s the worst I’ve seen the team feel,” Brian Boyle said of the team’s morale after Game 4. “Ultimately, I think it was a good thing.”

St. Louis’ heroic show of heart may have been the impetus, but others are doing their share as well. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was terrific in preserving a lead for more than 56 minutes, recording his seventh straight victory with the Rangers facing elimination while playing at home.

Derick Brassard has also been a game-changer of late. After a quiet first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, in which he was held without a goal, the 26-year-old center has scored three in the past two games and four total against the Penguins, including the overtime winner in Game 1.

“That line has gotten big goals for us,” Alain Vigneault said. “Like I have said many times, since Christmas I thought they have been our most consistent line and tonight that goal was obviously a big goal for us.”

And to see how Sidney Crosby unraveled in the second period is to see a star becoming unhinged and overwhelmed with frustration. With two straight losses after building a 3-1 series lead, the Penguins are now facing a good deal of pressure.

My, how this series has changed.

It was less than a week ago that the Rangers were essentially written off, victims of a disadvantageous schedule and ravaged by the physical tolls of a skilled, superior Penguins squad.

Ultimately it was a horrible tragedy that has changed this Rangers team. St. Louis was there for his teammates when they needed him most, and they have returned the favor.

The Rangers are simply not the same as they were before, becoming closer, more determined, armed with purpose.

“You feel for the guy. I have no idea what he’s gone through the last few days,” defenseman Marc Staal said of St. Louis. "He shows up at the rink in Pittsburgh and he was ready to go. That was inspirational for everyone in the room. He goes out and plays a great game. Today he scores a huge goal. The crowd’s chanting his name. It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s pretty remarkable.”

NEW YORK -- Expect another emotional night at Madison Square Garden as the New York Rangers hope to force a seventh game in their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a Mother’s Day victory.

The Rangers, rallying around forward Martin St. Louis, whose mother passed away the night before Game 5 in Pittsburgh, will try to help their teammate through a difficult Mother’s Day and extend the best-of-seven series with a second straight win.

“It’s going to be a couple of tough days for him. For us, we’re here for him to support him,” Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist said Sunday morning. "I think going into tonight’s game, though, you want to be focused on what you have to do, and Marty’s a big part of this team now.

“I have a lot of respect for how he handled everything in the last couple of days. He came to Pittsburgh, joined the team. It says a lot about him too.”

The key for the Rangers, who are expected to ice the same lineup as in Game 5 when they came away with a 5-1 victory to stop a three-game losing streak, will be finding that same emotional level. They were badly outplayed in their last home game when they managed only 15 shots on net in a 4-2 loss in Game 4.

“Pressure’s on them [the Penguins] right now,” Derick Brassard said Sunday. "They want to close the series out. For us, it’s a lot easier. Our backs are against the wall, we have nothing to lose, we’re just playing. Last game, we had fun and we scored a lot of goals, more goals than we’ve scored in the playoffs so far, so we just need to do the same."

Here’s a look at how the Rangers lineup will likely look Sunday night:

Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash
Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis
Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman, Marc Staal
John Moore, Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

As for the Penguins, neither Brooks Orpik nor Olli Maatta skated Sunday morning. If both are unable to play, it will further test Pittsburgh's defensive depth. Robert Bortuzzo has been playing in Orpik’s absence due to a lower body injury that has kept him out of six of the last seven postseason games.

Coach Dan Bylsma would not discuss lineup changes but said if Deryk Engelland does draw into the lineup for Game 6 in place of Maatta, he will be expected to bring physicality to the table. The coach said he doesn’t worry as much about a player coming into the playoffs after a long layoff -- Engelland last played April 12 -- because of the atmosphere of a postseason game.

“He’s a hard guy to play against,” Bylsma said. "We’ve seen him do it last year in the playoffs against Boston, be that big-bodied guy."

Engelland told reporters he wasn’t sure if he was going to play.

As for what is expected to be an emotional building Sunday night, Bylsma said he received texts from a number of Penguins mothers who noted that the perfect Mother's Day gift would be a victory to close out this series.

“I want to give my mother a gift today,” Bylsma said. "I know she wrote and texted about it. Get her the fourth win here tonight."

Here’s how the Penguins lines and pairings look:

Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, James Neal
Beau Bennett, Marcel Goc, Lee Stempniak
Brian Gibbons, Joe Vitale, Craig Adams

Paul Martin, Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland/Olli Maatta
Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo

Marc-Andre Fleury
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers may not win this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it won’t be for a lack of heart. At no other point in the season was the team’s loyalty, commitment and compassion on better display than Friday’s emotional 5-1 win in which they rallied behind teammate Martin St. Louis, who played Game 5 only one day after the death of his mother.

After the team charter landed in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon, the 38-year-old veteran found out his mother, France St. Louis, had unexpectedly died at 63 of a heart attack. The Rangers provided St. Louis with the team plane to fetch his family in New York, then procured a private plane to take them all to Montreal, where he joined his father and was able to see his mother one last time before she was taken away. He was told by the team to put family first, take whatever time he needed. But when he spoke with his father Friday morning, the decision was clear.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis, Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo
Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Rangers avoided elimination in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.
“I know, deep down, my mother would -- my mom would want me to play this game. She’d be proud of me coming here and help as much as I can. And the boys have been so supportive, the support I got from the New York Rangers, my teammates, and my friends and family, friends around the league, old friends, has been unbelievable,” said St. Louis in a touching, heartfelt postgame interview after the Rangers avoided elimination.

“She was a great lady, the best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it.”

Most of St. Louis’ teammates were unaware of his intentions on game day. Words started to spread at the pregame meal at the team hotel. Some were in utter disbelief that he was coming back. Some, especially those who have known St. Louis for some time, were not surprised at all. But all of his teammates recognized the sacrifice he was making. Here was a teammate in excruciating emotional pain, and he was putting that on hold to play a hockey game because it mattered.

"I think it shows how much he cares about the guys in this room," said defenseman Marc Staal. "He didn’t want to leave us when we needed him most. Shows a lot about a guy. I don’t know if I could do it."

Hockey has always been a sanctuary for St. Louis and it was again Friday night, when the team put forth an inspired, purposeful performance that kept their season afloat. Derick Brassard scored two goals, as did the maligned power play, and the Rangers forced a Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s always been like that for me. Once you get on the ice, I’m not going to say I forgot my whole situation -- she was with me the whole way -- but this is probably the most comfortable place that you can be as a hockey player,” St. Louis said.

Those around him did their best to keep his spirits high. There was a brief talk, in which he was thanked for his return, before team meetings just hours before puck drop. During the third period, Brassard gave him a jubilant hug on the bench, tussling his helmet in appreciation. Even Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby made a special stop near the Rangers’ dressing room to pay his condolences to the well-respected veteran before the game began.

After the game, alternate captain Richards talked about the “culture” of hockey players, saying he wasn’t surprised St. Louis played. No one on the team could have grasped the depth of St. Louis’ loss better than Richards, either. The longtime friends, who played together in Tampa, have known each other for years. Their families have grown close. Just 10 days earlier, Richards said, St. Louis’ mom was patting his fiancee’s belly, overjoyed for the impending arrival of his first child.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective about the other night’s hockey game," Richards said.

According to Brassard, the tragedy hit home for pretty much everyone, seeing their teammate go through such a shock.

“If we could’ve all gone to support him, we would have done it,” Brassard told

He thought of his own mother, and how despondent he would have been to receive such news.

“When things like that happen, it makes you realize,” Brassard began, getting emotional. “I wanted to call my mom and tell her I love her.”

The Rangers did the best they could, for St. Louis and for one another. They were able to harness that emotion and channel it. That sort of raw energy allowed them to power past the Pens, a totally different look from the team that was on the ice in Games 3 and 4 looking both ragged and defeated.

Now they will have another chance to prolong their season on Sunday. Fittingly, Game 6 falls on Mother’s Day.

“We get another chance to continue, on Mother’s Day,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It will be real special for our group.”
PITTSBURGH -- Rallying behind Martin St. Louis, who played Friday night after the death of his mother just one day prior, the New York Rangers avoided elimination with a decisive 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5.

Derick Brassard tallied two goals, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was razor-sharp, the power-play scored (twice!) and the Rangers played with the type of urgency and desperation that allowed them to force a Game 6 on Sunday back home at Madison Square Garden with the series now at 3-2.

Penguins star Evgeni Malkin did his best to put the team on his shoulders and single-handedly force Pittsburgh back into the game -- he charged right through two Rangers defenders for a highlight-reel goal in the second period -- but the Rangers were able to squash the Penguins' surges at key points throughout the match.
And you can bet the Marc-Andre Fleury questions will resurface after he gave up four goals Friday despite the 29-year-old netminder posting back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series.

Big game for Brassard: Save for an unwise slashing penalty on Malkin at the end of the second period, Brassard delivered a fine performance Friday night with a pair of goals. Backhanding the puck past Fleury in the first frame, Brassard allowed the Rangers to reclaim a two-goal lead in the second period. Production from Brassard’s line, which includes Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello has been huge for the Blueshirts, particularly given the struggles of the team’s star players Rick Nash, Brad Richards and St. Louis.

Slump snapped: The Rangers entered Friday’s action without a goal in their past 36 attempts, when a slump that spanned nine games was halted by Chris Kreider, who buried a rebound for a 1-0 Rangers lead at 9:36 in the first period. Kreider, who returned to the Rangers lineup in Game 4 after missing 19 games with a fractured left hand, showed why his net-front presence was so sorely missed during his absence. Before his goal, he made a nice diving play on the man advantage, a sputtering unit that has at least seemed a lot less stagnant with Kreider in the mix. The Rangers went on to score another man-up marker in the second period, with defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s first goal of the playoffs, a slap shot from the right point. McDonagh has been uncharacteristically disappointing this series but was able to chip in offensively with a big goal Friday night.

W2W4: Rangers at Flyers, Game 4

April, 25, 2014
At a glance: The New York Rangers hold a 2-1 first-round playoff series lead but the Philadelphia Flyers have the chance to tie things up Friday on home ice at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers had backup goalie Ray Emery in net for the first three games, but they get their regular starter back in Steve Mason for Game 4.

The 25-year-old will be looking to erase some otherwise unpleasant playoff memories. His previous trip to the postseason ended with his Columbus Blue Jackets being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, his rookie season.

Mason made a brief appearance in Tuesday’s Game 3, relieving Emery in the third period with the game already out of reach, and he received limited work. He faced only three shots in more than seven minutes of play, his only action in almost two weeks since suffering an upper-body injury on April 12 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

While Mason's return will likely provide a boost, the Flyers need no extra motivation.

"We're desperate. We want to win tonight. We have to win tonight," forward Wayne Simmonds said.

Bold statement: OK, it wasn’t quite the Mark Messier-level of dramatic promises, but Flyers captain Claude Giroux still raised some eyebrows with his guarantee that Philly would win Game 4 and take the series back to New York. Giroux proclaimed his confidence in the club following the team’s 4-1 loss in Game 3, in which he registered his first shot on goal of the series.

St. Louis
St. Louis
Coming around: Veteran forward Martin St. Louis struggled to satisfy expectations as his scoring woes persisted in the five weeks of the regular season following his trade deadline-day acquisition, but his game has improved since the playoffs began. The 38-year-old winger leads the Rangers in scoring with two goals and five points through three games.

Making moves: Flyers coach Craig Berube indicated that his team will be making some changes to the power play, which has been rendered largely ineffective this series. Though the numbers are not abysmal -- Philly is 2-for-9 on the power play -- Berube has been disappointed with the lack of puck movement and the team’s inability to get shots through. At least some of that is a testament to the Rangers’ superb penalty-killing efforts, but he’ll be looking to make some adjustments to give the Flyers an edge on Friday.

Whistle to whistle: Keeping emotions in check has been stressed repeatedly throughout the series for the Rangers, who were one of the most disciplined teams in the regular season. That obviously becomes a lot tougher during a physical, chippy series against one of the team’s hated rivals, but the Rangers are playing with fire by giving the Flyers too many chances on the man-advantage. With offensive weapons like Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell and Simmonds, the Rangers have to limit their time in the box.
Following a stunning turn of events that resulted in a trade to the New York Rangers from the Tampa Bay Lightning last month, Martin St. Louis had difficulty executing a seamless transition with his new club.

Landing on Broadway after a less-than-graceful exit from his longtime home in Tampa, St. Louis struggled to produce. Originally placed with good buddy Brad Richards in hopes of drawing on chemistry between the former Stanley Cup champion teammates, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault toggled the 38-year-old veteran with other lines with similar futility.

[+] EnlargeBrad Richards
AP PhotoBrad Richards has helped Martin St. Louis adjust to New York.
At first, St. Louis was generating chances and setting up linemates even though he was unable to find the back of the net himself. But then followed stretches where his game failed to yield any offense at all.

It took St. Louis 14 regular-season games to score his first goal as a New York Ranger. When the Rangers entered the final game of the schedule with the playoffs already clinched, Vigneault opted to rest St. Louis in Montreal. He wanted the player to rest, even offering him the option to stay back and spend time with his wife and kids; St. Louis declined and chose to be with his teammates.

“Playoffs is another season. I don’t know how he sees it,” Vigneault said on a conference call Wednesday, “but I do think, prior to the playoffs, even though Marty wasn’t on the score sheet as much as everybody anticipated, he was still contributing. ... That’s why our record was so good. He’s a big part of our group -- obviously his leadership is helping us as we try to move forward -- and we expect him to continue to play the way he is right now.”

Since the Rangers and Flyers convened for their first-round series last week, St. Louis has re-emerged as the type of elite scoring threat that made the Rangers confident in pulling the trigger March 5 in a blockbuster deal that sent beloved captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay in exchange for the defending Art Ross champ.

St. Louis has since tallied two goals in as many games for the Rangers, leading the Blueshirts in playoff scoring with five points. His expert deflection of Dan Girardi’s shot Tuesday night stood up as the game winner in the team’s 4-1 win over the Flyers on Tuesday, a critical victory that allowed the Rangers to take a 2-1 series lead. St. Louis, who was nominated as one of three Lady Byng Trophy finalists Tuesday, now has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in his last 13 playoff games.

“I mean, you always want to be on top of your game. It’s a tough thing to do consistently. ... You work at it. I’m glad to be helping,” St. Louis said after the game. "Anything you can do to help your team win, whether it’s making things happen with the puck or playing well away from it, you’re just trying to play your total game this time of year."

Richards, who won a Cup with St. Louis with the Lightning in 2004, could sense the emotional toll that his scoring drought was taking on his friend. Compound the offensive struggles with his new surroundings, intense scrutiny and lofty expectations and the pressure just did not relent.

“You get traded for a captain and you know it is an original six market and there's nothing more you want to do but be a Ranger. He probably just tried a little too hard, and it got to him,” Richards said. “It's good that he finally got to calm down and reset. You knew what he had been through, and eventually it would kick in again. He's getting more comfortable, and he's back to being Marty."

Rangers fans will soon know what that means, Richards assured.

"I don't think you got to see the level that Marty can play at during those 19 games [in the regular season]. You'll see that as it goes on,” Richards said. “I know him as good as anybody. He just wasn't as fluent; he was out of sorts. When your head is full of junk in any sport, you just get out of your own way and you do things that aren't natural and free flowing.”

In trying to assist St. Louis’ acclimation, Richards has tried his best to make his good buddy feel welcome, allowing him to crash in the spare room at Richards’ apartment and making sure the pantry is stocked for the two to share pregame meals. Slowly, St. Louis is finding his bearings.

On the ice, that is starting to pay dividends.

“Now it feels like he's part of it now,” Richards said. “It took a while to do that; sometimes it does. He's talking more, he's getting to get to know the guys more, and he's being himself off of the ice, which will translate back on it.”