'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Through the fires of adversity, the Rangers banded together to broadcast their collective spirit to the entire hockey universe. All you had to do was take a glance at the visiting bench at Consol Energy Center.
Throughout their 5-1 Game 5 victory, the Rangers supported one another on the bench. With their backs pressed against the wall, the Blueshirts galvanized as a single force to produce their best hockey of the playoffs to avoid elimination. As the final seconds ticked down, center Derick Brassard patted teammate Martin St. Louis on the head and gave him a one-armed hug.
St. Louis opted to rejoin his teammates after flying to Montreal on Thursday. His mother, France, passed away on Thursday at the age of 63. After consulting with his father, Normand, St. Louis decided it was best to make the trip back to Pittsburgh for Game 5.
"This morning he said he talked to his dad. Him and his dad agreed that his mom would have wanted him to be here," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said during his pregame press conference.
One could understand if St. Louis wanted to be as far away from hockey as possible and remain with his family in Quebec.
"At the end of the day, my message to him was there are more important things than hockey," Vigneault said. "You have to do what's right, you have to take care of your dad. They got up this morning and they talked and sorted it out and he's here."
Vigneault spoke of the united spirit of his team.
"I do think the fact that Marty decided to come back again, it says a lot about him but it also says a lot about our group," Vigneault said. "Our guys care, they're trying real hard."
The Rangers had channeled all of their energy and emotions to push the series to a sixth game, which will be played on Sunday night in front of their home fans at Madison Square Garden. Their dismal Game 4 performance on Wednesday seems very far in the rearview mirror.
On Friday night, Penguins fans gathered inside Consol Energy Center sensed that a Game 5 elimination was inevitable. After all, the Rangers played the sloppiest hockey of their lives in Game 4. But suddenly, the Blueshirts transformed into a confident, cohesive unit. They put away the bad habits and puck-possession issues that plagued them 48 hours earlier.
Their 0-for-36 power play found vigorous life in Game 5, going 2-for-3 on Friday night. After only collecting 15 total shots on goal in Game 4, the Rangers got off to a commanding start in Game 5 by outshooting the Penguins 17-9 in the first period. Now, the onus is on the Penguins to rediscover their best game.
"You have to turn the page real quick," Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said. "We're getting on a plane (Saturday). We've got to go to the Garden for Game 6. It's a tough place to play and a tough building."
BRASSARD AND KREIDER WERE EVERYWHERE IN GAME 5 VICTORY
When Game 5 was all said and done, Brassard had completed a monstrous night. The center with a flair for big-game performances scored two goals, registered one assist, put five shots on goal and delivered six hits. When watching Brassard, it's evident how fiercely he burns to succeed. He aggressively follows rebound opportunities and pure determination flows through him.
In only his second game of the playoffs, Chris Kreider looked a lot sharper. He opened the scoring for the Blueshirts at 9:36 of the first period with a power-play goal. Kreider launched himself into six hits and recorded a late assist on Kevin Klein's empty-net goal.
The Rangers are a different team with Kreider in the lineup. His speed and powerful strength adds an infusion of energy to the Rangers' lineup. Kreider's all-out desire was apparent as he dove for loose pucks, which kept plays alive.
MCDONAGH REDISCOVERS HIS BEST PLAY
Key defenseman Ryan McDonagh hasn't been himself throughout most of the playoffs. Some hockey analysts have pondered whether his left shoulder isn't 100 percent healed, while others have been increasingly concerned by his recent struggles against the Penguins.
In Game 5, McDonagh produced his best game of the playoffs. The final stat sheet only credited McDonagh with two blocked shots. Whether that is accurate or not, McDonagh was throwing his body all over the place to cause disruption. He blasted a power-play slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury's glove into the top corner at 8:48 in the second period.
The Rangers need McDonagh to effectively blanket Pittsburgh's big-name stars, carry the puck up the ice, provide accurate distribution and test Fleury with driven shots from the point.
"That's the way I know he can play," Vigneault said. "That's the way we need him to play. He's not hurt, and he needs to play that way if we're going to continue."
McDonagh's play will be crucial to whether the Rangers force a Game 7.
BOYLE PROVES ONCE AGAIN WHY HE'S SUCH A VALUABLE PENALTY KILLER
The Rangers' penalty kill was a successful 4-for-4 in Game 5. That wouldn't be possible without the presence of forward Brian Boyle, who logged 3:29 in shorthanded minutes.
Boyle uses his large 6-foot-7 frame to block shots and clog shooting lanes. His smarts and long reach allow him to break up countless plays. He noticeably made a key diving block on the Penguins' 5-on-3 power play late in the second period that robbed Evgeni Malkin of a threatening shooting opportunity.
Throughout the regular season and playoffs, Boyle has proven his irreplaceable worth to the Rangers' penalty kill. Currently, Boyle is earning a salary of $1.7 million in the final year of his contract. His contributions may get overlooked by some fans, but he certainly isn't a secret among hockey circles. Any team would love to plug Boyle on their checking line and penalty-killing unit. The Rangers must do what it takes to retain Boyle.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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