The Resilient Rangers are still there.
They avoided elimination Wednesday night in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with a 5-3 victory over the Penguins – who were without star Sidney Crosby as of the end of the second period – in front of a crowd sold out of 18,006 at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts, who put their complete Game 4 absence in Pittsburgh behind them, rebounded from tough losses and bad spells throughout the season. Until Game 5, however, they hadn’t played in this series with that fire we never got out of that had fueled them for the better part of the past seven months.
With not only a first-round playoff exit, but also the legitimacy of their regular-season success on the line, the Rangers sent the series back to Pittsburgh. Game 6 is scheduled for Friday night at PPG Paints Arena, where Rangers have allowed 14 goals combined in Games 3 and 4.
“We weren’t happy with what happened in Pittsburgh,” said Filip Chytil, who scored the game-winning goal on the power play less than three minutes into the third period. “It was just, the two games, something [that] we haven’t done all season. We just haven’t played all season [the] way we played, just [to] losing games like this in Pittsburgh.
“So we just had a good meeting, a good practice yesterday and we just thought today we were going to win and we’re going to go back to Pittsburgh.”
Chytil said before the game that he couldn’t speak for his teammates, but was personally looking forward to the ice. It was obvious how much Rangers’ disappointing performance in Pittsburgh was taking its toll on the Czech winger – and the rest of the Rangers roster.
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After the Penguins took a 2-0 lead, the youngsters paved the way for the Rangers, as they have for much of this series. Chytil, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko combined for two goals.
Lafrenière tied the game 2-2 at 16:41 of the second period thanks to a nice pass from Kakko behind the Pittsburgh net. The 2020 first overall pick raised his hands to the Garden crowd as he celebrated his second goal of the series.
“We’re having fun,” Lafrenière said. “But you have to work hard every shift, every shift counts. That’s what makes it so fun.
Rangers have found some courage at the back with Ryan Lindgren returning to the lineup after missing the last three games with an undisclosed lower body injury. Lindgren, who was his usual hard nose and found himself in the middle of a handful of leftovers, capped the scoring on an empty net with 16 seconds left in the game.
Igor Shesterkin had the Garden crowd chanting his name even before the national anthem was played. The fans in attendance surely knew how much their star goaltender needed encouragement after being retired in the previous two games. Shesterkin made 29 saves, including 15 in the third period.
The Garden crowd apparently began to lose hope after Kris Letang’s one-timer shot on a pass from Evgeni Malkin at 7:58 of the second period gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Pittsburgh was clogging every lane, blocking shot after shot and pushing the Rangers to the perimeter in all three areas.
But when Crosby left for the locker room with 6:32 left in the middle of the frame, after taking a hard kick from Jacob Trouba, things suddenly opened up for Rangers, who scored three goals – from Lafrenière, Adam Fox and Trouba – in the duration of 2:42.
Coincidence? Probably not.
Top winger Jake Guentzel kept the Penguins competitive, opening the scoring in the first period and then tying the score 3-3 in the final minute of the second. Still, the Rangers put up the kind of fight that softened the blow they took in the previous two games in Pittsburgh.
Head coach Gerard Gallant obviously couldn’t say for sure if his team would win this one and avoid elimination, but he knew the effort was going to be there – and it was.
“They were very competitive tonight and that’s what we expected of them,” Gallant said. “Be competitive, try to win a lot of one-on-one battles, and we played hard. We lost 2-0, but we still played hard all the time and fought back.
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