Commentary

Rangers re-establish identity in win

Brandon Prust knuckled up early, and Blueshirts followed suit against Senators

Updated: April 24, 2012, 7:37 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Staring down at what would've been a stunning elimination, the New York Rangers steeled themselves for a dogfight against the Ottawa Senators and rallied around one of the team's toughest customers to pull off a 3-2 win and tie the series 3-3.

After two straight losses in which the Rangers seemed to deviate from their trademark lunch-pail, blue-collar mentality, the Rangers got a poignant reminder of what their team is about and how they'll need to play after gritty winger Brandon Prust knuckled up against Ottawa's Chris Neil during the first period.

It wasn't the first time Prust tried to engage the Senators' tough guy, whose hit in Game 5 left Rangers center Brian Boyle with a concussion, but Neil finally obliged. The two dropped the gloves with 4:50 remaining in the first period and the Rangers trailing 1-0.

The brawl didn't translate immediately -- the Rangers did not score the first of three second-period goals until 14 minutes later -- but they were emphatic about what Prust did to re-establish the team's proud identity.

"It doesn't really matter what anyone did for us offensively. Prusty, what he's done all year and what he's done again tonight, it's unbelievable," said Brad Richards, who set up Derek Stepan's power-play goal at 8:55 in the first and tallied his own 5-on-3 goal later in the period. "We didn't want to let him down. I don't want to say that's why we won, but we love that guy and he's done it game in and game out all year. It was awesome to see."

Defenseman Marc Staal said he felt that was the turning point in the game, although the partisan Ottawa crowd would've argued that the turning point was the suspect goaltender interference call on Nick Foligno at 15:58 of the second. Following Stepan's and Richards' power-play goals in the second, Chris Kreider added the game-winner against Sens netminder Craig Anderson to wrest momentum from the Senators and ensure a visit back to Broadway for Game 7 on Thursday.

"I think he's been asking the whole series to go," Staal said. "Neil's a tough guy; he's as tough as they come, so it takes a lot of courage to go in there and do it for the team. I thought momentum changed after that, so it was a great job by him."

Prust led the league during the regular season with 20 fighting majors but has not thrown down since the playoffs began.

"Playoff hockey is a little different. There's never a lot of fighting," he said. "It's just a different type of mentality, but we have a hard-nosed bunch in there. Whether we're fighting or not, we're always digging and clawing."

Prust said he initiated with Neil primarily to "get the guys going, give us a little spark and a little jump," but admitted he was also motivated "maybe a little bit for Boyler too."

Neil did not face any supplementary discipline for the third-period hit that forced Boyle from the game and sidelined him for Game 6.

"We were down 1-nothing. Whenever I'm fighting, it's not usually for me; it's to get the guys going," Prust said. "I'd like to say it worked."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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