By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – The New York Rangers played like they didn’t want their season to end.
The Pittsburgh Penguins took their foot off the pedal after two of their most impressive performances of the season.
Now, the Rangers are back in the series, and their seemingly non-existent power play finally made its presence felt.
The Rangers used their first two power-play goals of the series to stave off elimination and defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1, during Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“I thought they came out like a team whose season was on the brink and at the start we played like a team that looked like we had an automatic bid to the next round,” Penguins’ defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
A move to the next round is still possible, but the Rangers, after Friday’s effort, proved it’s not going to be easy.
Pittsburgh, with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, looks to regroup and close out the series by winning its third road game of the week 7 p.m. Sunday during Game 6 at Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh has clinched seven of eight series on the road under coach Dan Bylsma, including the opening-round victory against Columbus.
“We have to turn the page real quick,” Bylsma said. “We’re playing a team that played desperate in Game 5. We have to play with the same desperation and do better.”
Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh both scored their first of the playoffs on the power play, the Rangers’ first two power play goals in the series after coming up empty in 36 prior opportunities, including 15 this series. Derick Brassard, the hero in Game 1, scored twice for the Rangers, who were full of life following a brutal five-game, seven-day stretch that appeared to drain their energy and contribute to the 3-1 hole.
“Momentum is a big part in the series and our main goal was just to go back to New York and take it one game at a time,” Brassard said.
The Rangers, who got an empty-netter from Kevin Klein, also rallied around grieving teammate, Martin St. Louis, whose mother unexpectedly passed away Tuesday night.
“It was a tough couple days for my family, but I know deep down my mother would want me to play this game,” St. Louis said. “She’d be proud of me coming here and helping as much as I could.
“She was a great lady. The best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it.”
Evgeni Malkin scored his NHL-best sixth of the playoffs, but it wasn’t enough for the Penguins.
“We knew they were going to be hungry, but we didn’t even come close to matching the desperation that we needed,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
The Rangers were desperate from the outset.
They outshot the Penguins 17-9 in the opening period and, thanks in part to what was a dreadful power play through four games, held a 2-0 advantage after 20 minutes.
Kreider’s first goal of the playoffs snapped a miserable funk, as the Rangers took an early lead and scored their first power-play goal, breaking a dismal 0-for-36 slide that stretched back to their opening-round series against Philadelphia.
Malkin’s individual effort early in the second pulled Pittsburgh back into the game, but only briefly. The Penguins’ star forward worked around Rangers’ defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and scored after an initial save, making it 2-1 on a no-look, spinning, turnaround shot.
But the Rangers answered, and astonishingly their response came from the power play.
McDonagh, less than a minute after Brassard’s second goal of the game, scored the Rangers’ second power play goal of the game – and the series – making it 4-1 after rocketing a shot from the point behind Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 30 saves.
The blast effectively sent the series back to New York.
“They just got pucks to the net,” Scuderi said. “Every time they threw a puck at the net, they had traffic. It’s tough to play against.”
The Penguins’ best chance at a comeback came at the end of the second period during an extended two-man advantage, but the opportunity fell by the wayside. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots.
It was a disappointing effort for a Penguins’ team that appeared to have finally discovered itself with wins in five of its previous six games.
The Penguins took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series thanks to a dominating effort on Broadway, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination after sweeping a pair of games at Madison Square Garden. Fleury played a key role, establishing a career and franchise record with a shutout streak that spanned more than 145 minutes. His defense helped, allowing a franchise-low 15 shots during a Game 4 victory.
The Penguins were primed to eliminate the Rangers on Friday. Not so fast.
The Rangers have new life with an opportunity to stay alive in the series and force a deciding Game 7 Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
New York has faced a 3-1 series deficit 16 times and every time the Rangers have been eliminated. The Rangers realize three below-average efforts put them in a deep hole, on the brink of elimination, but they’re hoping Game 5 is the beginning of a turnaround.
Pittsburgh just wants to end the series on Sunday.
“I don’t think there’s much good to take from this, to be honest with you,” Crosby said. “We have to make sure we come with the right mindset going to New York. Whatever mindset we had tonight wasn’t enough.”
NOTES: Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik missed Game 5 after returning from a prior injury in Game 4…The road team won three of five games this series and the team that scored first is unbeaten at 5-0…Friday’s loss was Pittsburgh’s first home regulation playoff loss against the Rangers since May 1996…Malkin’s 13 points lead all Penguins’ skaters…Kris Letang’s 38th career playoff assist surpasses Sergei Gonchar for second among defensemen in team history.