The Rangers not only saved their season Wednesday night, they saved their good name with a rollicking, 5-3 Garden victory over the Penguins that staved off first-round playoff elimination while setting up a Game 6 confrontation in Pittsburgh on Friday.
The Game 5 effort, personified by the battle level demonstrated by Ryan Lindgren’s gutty and punishing 19:34 of work after he missed the previous three matches with an undisclosed lower body issue, represented the essence of a Rangers team that racked up a 110-point season.
Except this one was a byproduct of gristle rather than sizzle. The Rangers strapped on their hardhats and slipped into their Black-and-Blueshirts. They contested every loose puck and came away with enough of the one-on-one’s.
They competed in front of both nets and drove pucks toward goaltender Louis Domingue effectively enough to break down the Penguins’ net-front coverage. That allowed them to score on four consecutive shots over a span of 7:42 bridging the second intermission and to go from a 2-0 deficit to a 4-3 lead.
Who said that these were the moments in which the series clock struck midnight? Or did that come when Sidney Crosby left the ice for good with 6:50 remaining in the second period after having taken a hit up high from Jacob Trouba about four minutes earlier? It would be foolish to understate the magnitude of that loss within the loss for the Penguins.
It was still 2-0 when Crosby went to his team’s room with 5:43 to play in the second. It did not stay that way for long. The Blueshirts started their climb out of oblivion on Adam Fox’s drive through traffic that beat Domingue just 54 seconds later.
If the Rangers collectively saved their good name with this effort, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko — the Kid Line — are making their NHL names through this series in which they have been irrepressible. They are too young to know otherwise.
“We are young guys but I think we have built from every game,” said Chytil, who ripped one past Domingue from the right circle on the power play for a 4-3 lead at 2:53 of the third period that the club protected until Lindgren got an empty-netter with 16 seconds left. “I think we have that chemistry and we are just trying to play hockey, have fun, and do the right things.
“I think we are getting better each game.”
Lafreniere followed Fox’s goal with one of his own, 90 seconds later, at 16:41 of the second to tie the score at 2-all by converting Kakko’s gorgeous backhand centering feed through a maze of sticks, celebrating by bouncing off the glass and imploring the crowd to get loud(er).
The Rangers came on.
“I think we did a good job of staying calm and sticking to the game,” No. 13 said. “It’s a lot of fun, but we have to work hard on every shift.
“I think we’re getting better but there’s still some things to correct but we’ll keep working on it. We’re playing as a unit. It’s fun to be part of this with the other guys playing so well.”
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Chytil had a disappointing season. His status for next season would seem to have been in serious doubt. This is about now, of course, but if this is a glimpse of the future, the Kid Line will be a major part of it. You probably wouldn’t have been able to say that two weeks ago.
“I didn’t score so many goals during the season, I was thinking too much on my chances,” said Chytil, whose second unit got onto the ice with around 40 seconds remaining on the fateful power play. “So now I just close [my] eyes and shoot and score a goal finally.
“I’m so happy I could help the team.”
Goalie Igor Shesterkin stuck with it and played with resolve, the taunts of Pittsburgh miles away. The penalty kill snuffed a two-minute, five-on-three power play just 24 seconds into the match. Though the Rangers fell behind 2-0, even though their top two lines created next to nothing, with the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Frank Vatrano unit falling to minus-four for the series (two for, six against), they refused to concede.
The Penguins did not yield either. After the Rangers took a 3-2 lead on Trouba’s goal at 17:53 of the second, their third strike in 2:32, the Penguins replied to tie it just 13 seconds later. So it was tied entering the third before Chytil struck.
It is up for grabs now. The Rangers’ resurgence and Crosby’s questionable status combining to ensure that.
What’s in a name? A lot if it belongs to No. 87.
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