Plenty of people seemed to count the New York Rangers out in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and they certainly still have a long way to go to totally turn the tide. Still, the team showed their mettle in elimination games once again, handling the Penguins in Pittsburgh 5-1 to extend the series to Game 6.
The Penguins still have a 3-2 series lead, but they have to wonder if they’re going to face a tougher Rangers team here on out (or if that squad might run out of gas once more).
The difference between the Rangers in Game 5 vs. 4 was night-and-day. After only managing 15 shots on goal in a dispiriting Game 4 defeat, the Rangers bested that shot output in the first period alone.
The Blueshirts enjoyed a fantastic night from Derick Brassard. Brassard’s stat line was something to savor: two goals, one assist, a +2 rating, five shots on goal and even some gritty work (six hits, one trip to the penalty box).
He wasn’t the only Rangers skater to stand out, either, as Chris Kreider looked like a difference-maker (one goal, one assist, six hits) and Mats Zuccarello piled up three assists.
The under-sized Norwegian seemed to be just one of the Rangers to get under the skin of Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who seemed especially agitated at times tonight.
Mike Milbury believes that the Penguins might want to go back to spreading the wealth by separating Crosby from Malkin (who scored a beauty for Pittsburgh’s only goal).
Ryan McDonagh had a nice night on defense (one goal and one assist) while Henrik Lundqvist looked quite sharp himself in stopping 31 out of 32 shots.
(In case you’re wondering, Rick Nash didn’t score a goal but he did notch an assist.)
Marc-Andre Fleury probably allowed a goal or two that he’d like to have back, but he’s been outstanding for most (if not all) of the other games in this series. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma might want to tell most of the Penguins – Fleury included – just to put this one out of their minds.
After winning the game, the Rangers embraced Martin St. Louis, who decided to play one night after his mother’s passing.
There was a lot of negativity surrounding the Rangers the last time they faced the Penguins in Madison Square Garden. If they can bring the kind of effort that they did not, the prevailing emotion might just be more tension for Pittsburgh.
Of course, seeing a thinner lead is likely to bring a far more concerted effort from the Penguins, too. We’ll see whether this series goes to seven games depending upon how things play out in Game 7 on Sunday.