Rangers ride wave of emotion
Teammates rally around grieving St. Louis to extend playoff series
PITTSBURGH -- So, let's admit we know nothing about emotion or momentum or trends that we think we see in a playoff series.
Where we saw a New York Rangers team drained of emotion, fragile, beaten; they revealed themselves to be proud, defiant, finding a hitherto unknown wellspring of will in beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 in Game 5 to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least one more game.
Maybe it was the emotionally charged locker room as the Rangers rallied around a grief-stricken Martin St. Louis who chose to return to Pittsburgh from Montreal to play in Game 5 after his mother passed away suddenly Thursday.
There is no denying that his decision to return to his teammates, many of whom he has known only a matter of months since coming to the Rangers from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, resonated throughout the locker room.
"We are a team and we're a close team. In the short time he's been here, he's pretty magnetic. He's got a love for this game and being around the rink and the guys already that we all appreciate and know, and the respect that we have for him. It was tough for all of us. But that's something that was impressive watching him tonight," Brian Boyle said.
"He's a special, special person."
And while the presence of St. Louis in the lineup -- he said this was the place that made him feel most comfortable, a kind of sanctuary if you will -- was an inspiring element, there was more to this remarkable transformation by a Rangers team that looked like it was finished just two nights ago.
How else to explain the Rangers suddenly finding the back of the net on not one but two power-play opportunities? The first, a nice effort by Chris Kreider in just his second game back from injury, ended an 0-for-36 stretch of power-play futility that had become an albatross around the team's collective neck.
The Kreider goal was one of two the Rangers scored in the first period, an effort reminiscent of their Game 1 overtime win.
But in the interim, they had lost three games in a row, including an ugly effort in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden two nights earlier in which they managed just 15 shots on goal.
"The other night we watched. When you watch, sometimes you look like you're lazy and you look like you're not in it and no emotion," center Brad Richards said.
"Obviously we rallied a little bit, it goes without saying, with what Marty comes back today. We didn't know what was going on. He comes back, shows up, smile on his face, getting everybody excited. Win one for his mom type of mentality and we rallied around that and got our feet moving. We talked about just something good happening to us, a power play goal, it just gets contagious for the group."
Oh this game had plenty of it.
Even before the game, CBC cameras caught Sidney Crosby chatting with St. Louis as the Ranger forward rode an exercise bike outside the locker room.
The two shook hands and there were no doubt words of consolation on the passing of St. Louis' mother.
Late in the game, cameras caught Derick Brassard standing next to St. Louis on the Rangers' bench, Brassard embracing St. Louis as St. Louis appeared to heave a great sigh. Relief? Sadness? Both?
There were other moments. John Moore and Jussi Jokinen giving solid whacks at each other with their sticks in front of the Rangers' net late in the third period. Matt Niskanen launching himself at Kevin Klein's head at the end of the second period.
But in the end, this emotional stew produced a much different outcome than we imagined.
And there's the rub: You just never know?
If you're the Rangers, you never know if the emotion and the desire to be better will be enough. You never know if it will be enough to translate into good things, like a couple of power-play goals or a key penalty kill as was the case when the Rangers shut down the talented Penguins during 1:23 of 5-on-3 action late in the second period.
"You never know but you've got to give yourself a chance. The other night we didn't give ourselves a chance. That's the way it goes," Richards said.
But if the Rangers' revival could at least be chalked up to the supercharged emotion of wanting to win for St. Louis and wanting not to be embarrassed, if this indeed was going to be their last hurrah, it was still somewhat shocking to see given how poorly they'd played in losing three straight games in this series.
"We know we can do that. It's nice after three straight losses not playing our best to be reminded of that. To show that we're not tired, we're not. Whatever excuse you want, throw them out the window. We can band together and play better and we did," Boyle said.
Only a little less shocking, then, was the curiously passive start to the game from the Penguins' perspective.
Someone asked Crosby about the mindset of playing in a game where you know you don't have to win against an opponent that has to win to keep playing.
Crosby insisted that they don't approach games in those terms. And yet it was hard not to watch the Penguins as they were out-hustled throughout the first period, outshot 17-9 and outscored 2-0 and wonder if that dynamic wasn't at play.
Oh, there were moments in the second period when the Penguins looked ready to roll back to life. They pulled to within a goal just 3:23 into the second period when Evgeni Malkin, in full beast mode, crashed into and around the Rangers' top two defenders Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and then collected his own rebound and whipped it past Henrik Lundqvist from a bad angle.
Not long after, Malkin, playing almost exclusively with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, nearly tied the game on a dazzling passing play. But the puck stayed out and Brassard restored the two-goal lead when he was able to coral his own rebound and snap the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury after a bad line change by the Penguins.
Less than a minute later, McDonagh scored the team's second power-play goal after the Penguins were assessed a too many men on the ice penalty to make it 4-1.
Crosby didn't sugarcoat his assessment of the Penguins' response, saying they weren't nearly desperate enough.
"I don't think there's much good to take from it to be honest with you," said Crosby.
"Whatever mindset we were tonight, it wasn't enough."
Some might call it a lack of killer instinct although maybe it's human nature to take a breather and given the way the Rangers had played the previous three games there was little to suggest Friday's outcome.
Certainly it will be interesting to see what kind of emotion the Penguins bring to Game 6 Sunday night in New York.
Logic suggests that the Rangers will be buoyed by this critical win and use home ice to their advantage on Mother's Day in the hopes of forcing a seventh and deciding game in Pittsburgh. But as we know, logic and expectation have no place in a playoff series.
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