PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Martin St. Louis has only been in New York a few months.
Still, the Rangers’ locker room feels like home, a sanctuary the veteran forward needed while trying to deal with one of the worst days of his life.
Only hours removed from sitting with his family in Montreal trying to come to grips with the death of his mother, St. Louis was in Pittsburgh with his teammates for an emotional 5-1 victory in Game 5 that extended New York’s season and served as a fitting tribute to someone St. Louis called “the best human being I ever met.”
“She was with me the whole way,” St. Louis said.
St. Louis and his father talked about whether he should just stay in Canada to mourn. They both knew what France St. Louis would have said.
“I owed it to her to do it,” St. Louis said. “I know she would have wanted me to play. I was a tough day for everyone, but we’ve got to keep pushing.”
Now it’s on to Game 6—Mother’s Day—for a series that suddenly looks competitive now that the Rangers have apparently solved their woes with the man advantage.
Derick Brassard scored twice, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein added their first goals of the post-season for New York and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots.
St. Louis had one shot in 16:19 of ice time, all of it with his mother in his thoughts.
“She was with me the whole way, but this is probably the most comfortable place you can be as a hockey player,” he said.
The Rangers certainly looked at ease while the Penguins failed to win a close-out game for the sixth time in their last seven chances on home ice. Evgeni Malkin had his third goal of the series for Pittsburgh and Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves but lacked the crispness that allowed the Penguins to sweep Games 3 and 4 in New York.
“I don’t think there’s much good to take from it to be honest with you,” Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby said. “So I think we have to make sure we come with the right mindset going to New York. Whatever mindset we were tonight it wasn’t enough.”
While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma stressed the importance of putting the Rangers away, the fire he was looking for from his bench came from the guys in white sweaters a couple stalls over.
Pittsburgh committed a pair of sloppy penalties the Rangers finally turned into goals and couldn’t convert a lengthy 5-on-3 power play late in the second period as it tried to climb out of a three-goal deficit.
“At the start I think we played like a team that looked like we had an automatic bid to the next round,” Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi said. “When it’s 2-0 right off the bat and you’re playing from behind it’s not easy.”
Pittsburgh held the Rangers to a 15 shots in Game 4, a franchise record for fewest shots allowed in a playoff game. New York had 17 in the first period Friday night.
Having its beleaguered power play finally look competent helped. The Rangers hadn’t scored with the man advantage since Game 2 of the first round, an 0-for-36 stretch that often featured disinterested or disorganized play by New York whenever an opposing player skated to the penalty box.
Kreider ended the miserable run 9:36 into the first period after Pittsburgh defenceman Robert Bortuzzo was called for delay of game for lazily flipping a puck over the boards in the Penguins’ zone despite having no pressure on him.
Playing in his second game after missing more than a month with a hand injury, Kreider threaded a rebound from the bottom of the left circle in a small hole between Fleury’s right pad and his blocker to give the Rangers their first lead in more than 180 minutes of play.
Brassard made it 2-0 just over 5 minutes later, diving across the Pittsburgh crease to bang home Mats Zuccarello’s rebound.
The Penguins seemed to regain their swagger in the second period and Malkin cut the lead in half at the end of a thrilling burst in which he beat two Rangers to the net and did a 360-degree spin before slipping his own rebound by Lundqvist.
The momentum didn’t last. The Rangers scored twice in the second to make it 4-1 and Pittsburgh never threatened to make it close.
Now it’s back to Madison Square as the Rangers try to win a series after trailing 3-1 for the first time in franchise history.