Happy Mother’s Day!
Here’s my column on the urgency both the Rangers and Penguins need to display in Game 6 tonight.
By Rick Carpiniello
Desperation. It’s such a simple word when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Yet, watching this Rangers-Pittsburgh Penguins series, you have to wonder. Do coaches and players talk about desperation, and about matching an opponent’s desperation, so much that they cause, well, what’s the opposite of desperation?
And why wouldn’t a team simply be as desperate as it could possibly be in a best-of-seven, pedal-to-metal, blood battle of will and skill in which the winner chases the Stanley Cup and the loser goes in search of golf clubs?
Throughout these playoffs and playoffs in recent years, we have seen the Rangers play so courageously when they’ve had to … twice winning Games 6 and 7 of a series after falling behind 3-2, three times winning a Game 7, going 8-2 in elimination games (Henrik Lundqvist has a 1.38 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in those 10 games).
We have seen, too, how they have failed — whether just barely outplayed, or in some cases completely overmatched — in games when they’ve led a series … failing to win consecutive games in both series this spring, and an NHL-record 13 straight losses when leading in a series (since 2008).
Then came the startlingly lousy performance in Game 4 Wednesday at the Garden, with a chance to even the series, followed by the ultra-desperate 5-1 win in Pittsburgh Friday.
That Game 5 had the Penguins’ Rob Scuderi saying, “We came out like we had an automatic bid to the next round.” And it had people reminding the Penguins that they are 4-7 overall and 1-5 at home when playing with a chance to eliminate an opponent since their 2009 Cup. They are also 2-6 at home in Game 7s … just in case that scenario comes up Tuesday.
But first we have Game 6 at the Garden Sunday night, a game that didn’t look likely after the Penguins won three in a row to put the Rangers on the brink.
The Rangers also gained so much energy and urgency by rallying around their comrade, Martin St. Louis, whose mother, France, died suddenly at age 63 on Thursday. St. Louis was with the team, having just landed in Pittsburgh, when he got the news. He left the team, went to Montreal to be with his family, then returned for Game 5. He would go back to Montreal Friday night (while the Rangers were fogged in at Pittsburgh), pick up his father and sister, and bring them to MSG for Game 6 on Mother’s Day.
There’s nothing wrong with using that emotion, but the Rangers better not rely on it. Pittsburgh will be better in Game 6, without a doubt.
“From our standpoint, we don’t have a choice,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday. “Our level of play, our level of execution, our level of compete and desperation has to be as high as it can be.”
The Rangers did many things in Game 5 that could provide hope, none more than (A) shaking the confidence of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, whose playoff performances have been sub-par since ’09, and (B) scoring two power-play goals after going an unimaginable 0 for 36.
Now it’s the Penguins’ power play stuck in a 1-for-15.
“When your season’s on the line, you’ve got to come in with every ounce that you have, mentally and physically, and put it all on the line,” Rangers center Brad Richards said. “That’s the biggest challenge is getting everybody to put forth that energy level, and try to do it all again (Sunday) and make them try to get to our level.”
One more time. With desperation.
Series at a glance
Game 1: Rangers 3, Penguins 2, OT
Game 2: Penguins 3, Rangers 0
Game 3: Penguins 2, Rangers 0
Game 4: Penguins 4, Rangers 2
Game 5: Rangers 5, Penguins 1
Game 6: At Rangers, 7 p.m., Sunday, (NBCSN)
x-Game 7: At Pittsburgh, TBD, Tuesday (TBD)
Photo by Getty Images.