PITTSBURGH - Friday's Game 5 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Rangers second-round playoff series was the Penguins' chance to eliminate the Rangers on Pittsburgh's home ice and move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
However, the game took on a very emotional meaning for the Rangers when they learned of the unexpected passing of veteran right winger Martin St. Louis' mother. The Rangers rallied around St. Louis and played their best game of the series, staving off elimination and beating the Penguins 5-1.
"You don't expect these things," said St. Louis. "It was a couple tough days for my family, but I know deep down my mother would want me to play this game. She'd be proud of me coming here and helping as much as I can tonight. The boys are so supportive, the support I've got from the boys, my friends and family ... is unbelievable."
Center Derick Brassard scored twice at even-strength and the Rangers' much maligned power play accounted for two goals as well. Before Game 5, New York's power play had been on an 0-for-36 skid. Center Mats Zuccarello was also impressive, recording three assists.
With the win the Rangers improved to 8-2 in their past 10 playoff games when facing elimination, including wins in three of five road games dating back to 2012.
The loss for Pittsburgh was its first in regulation in these playoffs; all three of its previous playoff losses had come in overtime.
"We didn't get a win at home and it's a missed opportunity Game 5 here at home," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. "We have to turn the page; we're going back to Madison Square Garden to win our fourth one there."
It was the Rangers' striking first at 9:36 of the first period. Center Chris Kreider made a diving poke-check to get the puck back to defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who immediately fired a shot on net. Kreider was able to corral the rebound of the McDonagh shot and wrist it past Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Rangers the 1-0 lead.
"Definitely in the first period, we knew they were going to be hungry and we didn't even come close to matching the desperation that we needed," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "That's something we have to be much better at."
The team that scored first had won every game of the series, which held true again in Game 5.
New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had to be sharp in the minutes following the Rangers goal, making several above-average saves, including two point-blank stops on Crosby and center Marcel Goc.
"You definitely want to get that start where you feel like you're a confident team, and the same thing goes for me, so it felt good to make a couple of big saves early on, and you try just to stay focused on the right things," said Lundqvist.
Those saves would prove to be key in allowing the Rangers to take a 2-0 lead at 15:23 of the first. Zuccarello fired a slap shot on goal from the left faceoff dot that hit Fleury and bounced right to the stick of Brassard, who then slid across the top of the crease, untouched, and tucked the puck past Fleury on his backhand while falling to the ice.
New York dominated the majority of the first period's play, outshooting the Penguins 17-9.
Pittsburgh recorded its lone goal 3:23 into the second period thanks to a great individual effort from center Evgeni Malkin. Skating down the slot, Malkin split defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi and wristed a shot on Lundqvist. The resulting rebound kicked out to the right, but Malkin followed it, spun around, and threw a shot back on goal from a nearly impossible angle that managed to slide under Lundqvist.
Just when it looked as though the Penguins might be gaining some momentum, the Rangers struck twice in less than a minute. First it was Brassard putting the Rangers back ahead by a pair at 7:58 of the second when he got his own rebound and roofed a shot from the bottom of the right-wing faceoff circle over a down-and-out Fleury.
"We just made a play there and the momentum came back to our side," said Brassard.
Only 50 seconds later, and just seconds after the Penguins had taken a too many men on the ice penalty, the Rangers got their second power-play tally of the game when McDonagh fired a slap shot past Fleury from the right point.
With 1:49 left in the second, the Penguins were awarded an extended two-man advantage, but failed to covert, taking several ill-advised shot attempts that were easily blocked away. The Penguins had the shot advantage 15-9 in the second, but found themselves trailing 4-1 at the end of two, a deficit upon which they would never improve.
Defenseman Kevin Klein added an empty-net goal for good measure at 17:31 of the third to seal the 5-1 win for the Rangers.
Lunqvist made 31 saves to earn the win, while Fleury turned aside 30 Rangers shots in defeat. Game 6 is set for Sunday night in New York at Madison Square Garden.
NOTES: New York and Pittsburgh are two of just four teams, along with San Jose and Detroit, to qualify for the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons. ... The Rangers are one of two teams -- and the only Eastern Conference team -- to win a playoff series in each of the past three seasons. ... The 15 shots allowed by the Penguins in Game 4 was the fewest allowed in a playoff game in franchise history. ... Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist made his 78th consecutive playoff start. ... The Penguins lead the playoffs with three short-handed goals. ... Scratches for the Penguins were D Brooks Orpik (undisclosed), D Deryk Engelland, LW Tanner Glass, LW Taylor Pyatt, RW Chris Conner, and G Tomas Vokoun. Scratches for the Rangers were D Raphael Diaz, D Justin Falk, C J.T. Miller, RW Jesper Fast and LW Daniel Carcillo. ... The official attendance was 18,633.