By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The New York Rangers appeared to be in way over their heads against the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least when it came to individual matchups in the series.
Alain Vigneault could align his players any way he wanted, but it still came down to stopping — or at least slowing down — the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Brandon Sutter.
Go down the Rangers roster, and Vigneault couldn’t match up and come out ahead.
Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks had the talent to compete with the Penguins, but that’s about it in the NHL.
But the Penguins haven’t been at their best in the postseason since 2009, when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in a classic seven-game series and won the only Stanley Cup that Crosby and Malkin have ever lifted.
The game of hockey is not just about talent. Emotion comes into play in the NHL perhaps more than it does in any other sport. The Rangers had plenty of it in their final three games against the Penguins, and that surge helped light the fuse for an amazing comeback victory in the series.
It certainly didn’t look like the Rangers had a prayer after four games, and that’s when Marty St. Louis got the heart-rending news that he had lost his mother.
Tragedy does not wait until the end of a playoff series to strike. It kicked St. Louis when he was down, but he refused to let it defeat him.
Instead, he used the memory of his mother to help inspire him to play the best hockey he could from that point forward. His teammates were not about to let him go it alone, either.
When they went back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 — and what should have been the wipeout game of the series — the Rangers played with passion, fervor and abandon. Those factors had been missing in the games at Madison Square Garden, and they were able to dominate with a 5-1 victory.
Derick Brassard scored two goals to lead the way, and suddenly the Rangers had life. If they could overwhelm the Penguins on their home ice, surely they could come up with a decent effort at home in Game 6.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Rangers jumped out early in that game on goals by St. Louis and Carl Hagelin. The Penguins would blunt that early momentum when Sutter scored later in the first period, but that’s all they would get.
Henrik Lundqvist frustrated Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Kunitz at every turn and the Rangers squared the series.
The Penguins had an eerie feeling as they took the ice at home for Game 7. In the previous four years they had been upset by lower-seeded teams. They had been swept by the Bruins, embarrassed by the Flyers, taken out by the Lightning and drummed by the Canadiens.
Past failures were swimming around in their heads — particularly the heads of Crosby, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and head coach Dan Bylsma.
That’s what gave the Rangers an advantage coming into this game. They had Lundqvist, who has known nothing but success in Game 7s, and they also had Brad Richards, who was 6-0 in Game 7s throughout his career.
Was it really a surprise that Lundqvist held the Pens to one goal and that Richards scored the winner in a 2-1 game?
Was it really a shocker that Fleury let the Rangers back into the series and that Crosby scored just one goal in the playoff season?
The answers to all of those questions is no, and in resounding fashion.
The Rangers have very little history with St. Louis, as he joined them late in the regular season as a trade-deadline acquisition. However, they did not let a factor like time keep them from embracing him and helping him through his difficult moment.
The Rangers rose to the occasion and beat a more talented opponent. They will sit and wait for Boston or Montreal to emerge as their opponents in the Eastern Conference finals.
Who’s to say the Rangers won’t be able to come up with an answer for either one of those teams?
They are a dangerous, hungry and emotional team. Sometimes, that’s enough.
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories