Sidney Crosby went out and the Rangers went in.
Crosby was injured late in the second period as the result of a hit by Jacob Trouba. Suddenly, the Rangers found their game as they used a three goal outburst in a 2 minute, 42 second span to rally from a 2-0 deficit and beat the Penguins, 5-3 in game five of their first round series at Madison Square Garden last night.
Penguins now have a 3-2 lead in the series with game six on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead on goals from Jake Guentzel in the first period and Kris Letang scored at 7:58 of the second.
Crosby missed the final 6:50 of the second and all of the third period and it became a notable absence. According to Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, Crosby has an upper body injury. “He’s being evaluated right now,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins seemed to be a rudderless team without their leader and future Hall of Famer. The door was open and the Rangers stormed right in. “We definitely raised our level too,” Chris Kreider told MSG Network after the game.
“Down 2-0, but we still played hard the whole time and we battled back. Once we got that first goal it was a big boost for our club,” head coach Gerard Gallant said after the game.
That first goal came with 4:49 left in the second period. Adam Fox took a pass from Andrew Copp and moved in to fire a shot that beat Penguins goaltender Louis Domingue for this third goal of the series and brought the dormant Garden to life.
Fox’s goal felt a little like Alex Kovalev’s goal, late in the second period of game six against the Devils in the 1994 East Finals. In both instances, the season was on the line.
The Rangers rode their new found momentum to the tying goal just 90 seconds later thanks to the “kid line” of Kappo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis LaFreniere.
Kakko made a beautiful back hand pass from behind the net and LaFreniere put it past Domingue for his second goal of the series to tie the game at two. “That was a great play, I was just trying to get open and he [Kakko] found me with a nice back hand sauce,” LaFreniere said.
The line that features three, first round picks, has been the Rangers best line and they’re getting better with every game. “They’ve been unbelievable,” Kreider said. “They’ve certainly risen to the occasion, making unbelievable plays, wanting to make a difference every time they’re out there.
The Rangers were flying and 72 seconds after tying the game, they took the lead. Jacob Trouba, who impacted the game for the first time in the series, moved into the slot and back handed the puck past Domingue for his first of the series and a 3-2 lead.
The exhiliration lasted 13 seconds. Igor Shesterkin made a lazy pass and it led to the tying goal by Jake Guentzel who scored twice and has seven goals in the series, as the teams skated off with a 3-3 tie after two.
Early in the third, the Rangers got their first power play opportunity. Filip Chytil picked up a loose puck in the right faceoff circle and fired it past Domingue to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. Chytil said he just reacted when he saw the puck was loose. “I don’t even know how it gets to me but, probably the whole season I didn’t score many goals. I was thinking too much in the chances and now I just close eyes and shoot and score goal finally.”
From there, the Rangers were able to hold off the Penguins until Ryan Lindgren sealed it with an empty net goal at 19:44 of the third period. Shesterkin took the cue and was solid in the third period as he made 15 saves.
It was fitting that Lindgren put the game away because he put on a gritty performance. It was uncertain whether Lindgren would even play as he deals with a lower body injury but he was in the lineup.
“That’s what he is, he’s a character guy,” Gallant said. “He plays hard, he plays all the time. I don’t know how many minutes he played tonight but it seemed like he was on the ice all night. Just one of those guys that make people around him better.”
Gallant dressed seven defenseman, in case Lindgren would have to leave the game. (Patrik Nemeth was the seventh defenseman and got one shift) Lindgren went back to the locker room in the second period but he was on the ice for the third and was an inspiration with his presence. “He played great tonight. You can see right away he’s a big part of our defense,” LaFreniere said.
The game got off to a shaky start for the Rangers as they took two penalties at the 24 second mark of the first period. Trouba and Kreider took a seat in the penalty box, giving the Penguins a 5 on 3 advantage, but the Rangers had a huge penalty kill to keep Pittsburgh off the board early on.
Crosby’s playing status will be a major storyline leading into Friday’s game six. So will Shesterkin, who will be serenaded by the Penguins faithful and will be under the gun to be much better as the Rangers will be facing another challenge with their season on the line.