PITTSBURGH — New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis spent Thursday night with his family in Montreal, grieving the loss of mother France after she passed away suddenly.
When Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told St. Louis perhaps the veteran forward should remain at home rather than help the Rangers try to fend off elimination against the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis and his father held a lengthy heart to heart.
Hours later, St. Louis was in Pittsburgh. By the end of the night he was near tears after an impassioned team effort in a 5-1 victory that forced Game 6 in New York on Sunday — Mother’s Day.
“I’m glad we’re able to get this win and stay alive,” St. Louis said. “She was a great lady, the best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it. I know she would have wanted me to play.”
Buoyed by the return of their teammate, one who has fit in quickly after being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, the Rangers shook off a lethargic loss in Game 4 by blitzing the Penguins early.
Derick Brassard scored twice, including New York’s first power-play goal in 10 games. Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein added their first goals of the post-season for New York while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots.
St. Louis had one shot in 16:19 of ice time, all of it with his mother in his thoughts.
“She was with me the whole way but this is probably the most comfortable place you can be as a hockey player,” he said.
The Rangers certainly looked at ease while the Penguins failed to win a close-out game for the sixth time in their last seven chances on home ice. Evgeni Malkin had his third goal of the series for Pittsburgh and Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves but lacked the crispness that allowed the Penguins to sweep Games 3 and 4 in New York.
While Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma stressed the importance of not letting the Rangers back in the series, the fire he was looking for came from the other bench.
Pittsburgh committed a pair of sloppy penalties the Rangers finally turned to goals and couldn’t convert a lengthy 5-on-3 power play late in the second period as they tried to climb out of a three-goal deficit.
“At the start I think we played like a team that looked like we had an automatic bid to the next round,” Pittsburgh defenceman Rob Scuderi said. “When it’s 2-0 right off the bat and you’re playing from behind it’s not easy.”
The Penguins held the Rangers to a 15 shots in Game 4, a franchise record for fewest shots allowed in a playoff game. New York had 17 in the first period Friday night.
Having its beleaguered power play finally look competent helped. The Rangers hadn’t scored with the man advantage since Game 2 of the first round, an 0-for-36 stretch that often featured disinterested or disorganized play by New York whenever an opposing player skated to the penalty box.
Kreider ended the miserable run 9:36 into the first period after Pittsburgh defenceman Robert Bortuzzo was called for delay of game for lazily flipping a puck over the boards in the Penguins’ zone despite having no pressure on him.
Playing in his second game after missing more than a month with a hand injury, Kreider threaded a rebound from the bottom of the left circle in a small hole between Fleury’s right pad and his blocker to give the Rangers their first lead in more than 180 minutes of play.
Brassard made it 2-0 just over 5 minutes later, diving across the Pittsburgh crease to bang home Mats Zuccarello’s rebound.
The Penguins seemed to regain their swagger in the second period and Malkin cut the lead in half at the end of a thrilling burst in which he beat two Rangers to the net and did a 360- degree spin before slipping his own rebound by Lundqvist.
The momentum didn’t last. Brassard roofed a shot through a scrum in front of Fleury to make it 3-1 and McDonagh scored his first goal of the post-season with a shot through traffic from the point after Pittsburgh was whistled for too many man on the ice, the kind of untidy mistake the Penguins had avoided while winning three straight to take command of the series.
Now it’s back to Madison Square for a series that suddenly looks competitive.
“I don’t think there’s much good to take from it to be honest with you,” Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby said. “So I think we have to make sure we come with the right mindset going to New York. Whatever mindset we were tonight it wasn’t enough.”
NOTES: The line of Brassard, Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot combined for seven points (two goals, five assists). … Pittsburgh forward Jussi Jokinen’s points streak ended at eight games. … Pittsburgh scratched D Brooks Orpik, who appeared to suffer a lower-body injury in Game 4. … The Rangers are 5 for 47 with the man advantage in the playoffs.