The Resilient Rangers are still here.
They staved off elimination Wednesday night in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with a 5-3 win over the Penguins — who were without star Sidney Crosby from the end of the second period on — in front of a sold-out crowd of 18.006 at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts, who put their complete no-show in Game 4 in Pittsburgh behind them, have bounced back from tough losses and bad periods all season long. Up until Game 5, however, they hadn’t played in this series with that we’re-never-out-of-it fire that had fueled them for the better part of the last seven months.
With not only a first-round playoff exit, but also the legitimacy of their regular-season success on the line, the Rangers feel the series back to Pittsburgh. Game 6 is set for Friday night at PPG Paints Arena, where the Rangers gave up a combined 14 goals in Games 3 and 4.
“We were not happy with what happened in Pittsburgh,” said Filip Chytil, who scored the game-winning goal on a power play less than three minutes into the third period. “That was just, both games, something [that] we didn’t do whole season. We just didn’t play whole season [the] way that we played, just [to] lose games like this in Pittsburgh.
“So we just had a good meeting, good practice yesterday and we just believed today that we’re gonna win and we’re gonna go back to Pittsburgh.”
Chytil said before the game that he couldn’t speak for his teammates, but he was personally itching to get on the ice. It was evident just how much the Rangers’ disappointing performances in Pittsburgh weighed on the Czech winger — and the rest of the Rangers lineup.
Post Sports+ members, sign up to have Mollie Walker text you the latest word on the Rangers and reply with your thoughts and questions. Not a Sports+ member yet? Try it now.
After the Penguins took a 2-0 lead, the youngsters led the way for the Rangers, as they have for much of this series. Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko combined for two goals.
Lafreniere evened the score 2-2 at 16:41 of the second period off a slick feed from Kakko behind Pittsburgh’s net. The 2020 first-overall pick pumped his hands up to the Garden crowd as he celebrated his second goal of the series.
“We’re having fun,” Lafreniere said. “But you got to work hard every shift, every shift matters. That’s what makes it that much fun.”
The Rangers regained some grit on their back end with Ryan Lindgren getting back in the lineup after missing the last three games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Lindgren, who was his usual hard-nosed self and found himself in the middle of a handful of scraps, capped the scoring on an empty-netter with 16 seconds left in the game.
Igor Shesterkin had the Garden crowd chanting his name before the national anthem even played. The fans in attendance surely knew just how much their star goalie needed some encouragement after he was pulled in the previous two games. Shesterkin made 29 saves, including 15 in the third period.
The Garden crowd seemingly started to lose hope after Kris Letang’s one-timer off an Evgeni Malkin feed at 7:58 of the second period gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Pittsburgh was clogging every lane, blocking shot after shot and pushing the Rangers to the perimeter in all three zones.
But when Crosby left for the locker room with 6:32 left in the middle frame, after absorbing a hard hit from Jacob Trouba, things suddenly opened up for the Rangers, who scored three goals — from Lafreniere, Adam Fox and Trouba — in the span of 2:42.
Coincidence? Probably not.
Top-line winger Jake Guentzel kept the Penguins competitive, opening the scoring in the first period and then tying the score 3-3 in the final minute of the second. Still, the Rangers put up the kind of fight that lessened the blow that they took the previous two games in Pittsburgh.
Head coach Gerard Gallant obviously couldn’t say for sure if his team was going to win this one and avoid elimination, but he knew the effort was going to be there — and it was.
“They were competitive as hell tonight and that’s what we wanted from them,” Gallant said. “Be competitive, try and win a lot of one-on-one battles, and we played hard. We went down 2-0, but we still played hard the whole time and we battled back.”