As has been the case almost all season long, the New York Rangers were at their best in unfriendly confines.
With their season in the balance, the Rangers played their most complete game of the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning convincingly 5-1 at the Consol Energy Center Friday night to cut the Penguins' series lead to 3-2.
The scene at the end of the game said it all.
As the clock wound down, Dominic Moore patted Martin St-Louis on the back as the two sat side-by-side on the Rangers bench. And Moore was the first to embrace St-Louis as they celebrated the win with their teammates on the ice.
Of all the Rangers, Moore, who lost his wife, Katie, to liver cancer in 2013, is the one teammate that could have understood what St-Louis was going through. St-Louis was playing just one day after his mother, France, passed away suddenly. She was 63 years old.
For St-Louis and the Rangers, the good news, now, is they force a Game 6. The bad news is it will be back in New York.
For whatever reason, the Rangers have dealt with a good deal of reverse homesickness all season long at Madison Square Garden, and that has continued into the playoffs. They were able to squeak out three wins in four games at home against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 1, but they were positively putrid in two games at home earlier this week, losing both to the Penguins after splitting the first two of the series in Pittsburgh.
Round 2 has been a microcosm of New York's regular season.
The Rangers were one of the NHL's best road teams since late October. They had the No. 1 road record (25-14-2) in the Eastern Conference and the third-best overall behind only the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks.
But it did take them a while to transition from weaklings to warriors on the road. Nine games, in fact.
Due to renovations at MSG, the Rangers had to start the season with nine straight away from home. They got off to an ugly 2-6-0 start, including back-to-back blowouts in California, where they lost 9-2 to the San Jose Sharks and 6-0 to Anaheim. But by the last game of the road trip, they’d found their comfort level away from MSG, winning 3-2 in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings. And from then on it’s been road sweet road for the Rangers.
Factor out that dreadful eight-game start to the season, and New York’s road record was a remarkable 23-8-2 since October 26.
Which is why the Rangers won’t necessarily carry the momentum into Game 6 just because they were the dominant team in Game 5. They’ll be at home, where they play tighter than a pair of ’80s jeans.
During the regular season, they were just 20-17-4 (21st overall) at home. And in Games 3 and 4 they were booed mercilessly by their fickle fans at home as Pittsburgh owned New York in every zone of the ice.
Nonetheless, the Rangers will try to ride their second road win of the series all the way home. They played inspiringly, in large part due to the fact their season was on the line, but also in part to wanting to win the game for ‘Marty.'
Game 6 goes Sunday in New York. And the setting will be perfect for St-Louis, who will try to win another for his mom, this time on Mother's Day.
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