Still alive: Rangers control play, send series back to MSG

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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.

Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

“They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

Elsewhere…

Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

— Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

Pietrangelo-Coyle
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Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

Update:

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

“I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

Vigneault felt the hit was late.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

Beleskey was not suspended.

Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Panthers center Vincent Trocheck have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From the NHL:

Crosby led the League in goals and points (5-3-8) in three games as the Penguins (26-18-7, 59 points) earned four of a possible six points to secure the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

Karlsson led the League in assists and ranked second in points (0-7-7) in three games as the Senators (24-23-6, 54 points) won one of three starts for the week.

Trocheck notched six points (3-3—6) in three games, helping the Panthers (31-15-6, 68 points) widen their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points.

Related: Red-hot Crosby could make Pens a flawed (but dangerous) dark horse