On life support with their backs against the wall the New York Rangers gave all the Blueshirt faithful a reason to begin to believe again. What once looked dismal being down 2-0 the Rangers stormed back to take a do or die game 5 at Madison Square Garden 5-3 against the Penguins.
Positives: There’s not much more you can say about the youth of this team headlined by Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Alexis Lafreniere than that they’ve been sensational. They have been the lone bright spot for the Rangers so far throughout this series and in game five they were no different. Creating chances, hard forechecking, and when the team needed it, two much needed goals. Lafreniere and Chytil’s goals were both big time moments that elevated the entire team. This line has been unbelievably clutch and reliable throughout five games for the Rangers. The biggest bright spot in game five was the dominance of Kakko’s forechecking where he just became an absolute monster and refused to be denied at causing havoc. Especially late in the third with the Rangers protecting a slim one goal lead, Kakko won a puck battle and then continued to grind and grind away and keep the puck below the Penguins goal line to kill nearly 40 seconds by himself. A play like that won’t go into the scoresheet but it went a long way into helping the Rangers protect their lead and win a much needed game. Huge stick taps to all three kids for contributing in a major way in a high profile spot.
Welcome back Ryan Lindgren! Lindgren being back in the lineup was huge for two reasons, one it got Patrik Nemeth off the ice, go figure the Rangers win without him, and two he helped Adam Fox look a lot more like Adam Fox. Lindgren also helped take Evgeni Malkin off his game and cause Malkin to take two dumb penalties late in the game with the Penguins chasing the lead. It’s no secret that when Malkin gets frustrated he tends to take undisciplined penalties and Lindgren got under his skin and helped put Malkin in the box for four minutes with the game on the line. Lindgren was rewarded with sealing the game with the empty netter off of Jake Guentzel. Welcome back, Lindy!
Igor Shesterkin’s third period was a third period we all needed to see. It was a nightmare for Shesterkin in Pittsburgh being pulled in back to back games and game five didn’t start much better. Shesterkin certainly wasn’t totally at fault but he didn’t look like the Igor Shesterkin we had seen all year long. In the third period though it looked like a switch was flipped and Igor just wasn’t going to get beaten again. He made some absolutely monstrous saves to keep the Penguins at bay and keep the Rangers in control. That’s the type of period that could go a long way in helping restore the once fragile confidence that Shesterkin looked like he most of the game.
We keep saying it but K’Andre Miller is having himself a coming out party. Miller has just been a rock for this team against Malkin and then tonight against Crosby. His defensive game and confidence has been incredible and Miller’s offensive confidence has been growing with each shift. This is the exact kind of series I thought we would see from Miller and he hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.
The biggest positive though was no Patrik Nemeth. Lets keep it that way, shall we?
Negatives: Mika Zibanejad is still on a milk carton somewhere. While he had fleeting moments tonight of looking like the player we all know he can be, he’s a long way off. It’s not even about his offensive game at this point but his defensive game is nowhere to be found. On two of the three Pens goals tonight, Zibanejad just decided he had no interest in staying with Jake Guentzel and it burned the Rangers.
The Rangers puck management still isn’t where it should be to win playoff games. The Rangers were just too careless at points with passes and decisions and they were fortunate it didn’t burn them tonight but don’t keep playing with fire. The Penguins have shown throughout the series they have no issue capitalizing off Ranger mistakes.
There just wasn’t a big sense of urgency to start the game tonight. Down 3-1 on home ice you would’ve expected the Rangers to come out with their hair on fire and that just didn’t happen. There needs to be a bigger sense or urgency when your season is on the line, the way they played the second period is how they should’ve started the game. It doesn’t help that the Rangers immediately put themselves down two men to start the game which could have buried them had it not been for a dynamite PK.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves played a very nice game tonight to try and help spark the team. Rooney also did a tremendous job of agitating Malkin and getting under his skin. Ranger fans can’t give enough credit to Rooney for helping upset the superstar and driving him off his game. Absolute masterclass. Reaves was especially notable for getting in hard on the forecheck and hitting the Penguins defense hard and separating them from the puck. One of those things that won’t be noticed in the stats but Reaves and Rooney made the Rangers hard to play against and the Rangers are going to need more of that moving forward.
Overall this was the kind of game the Rangers needed to win to feel better about themselves. They didn’t play nearly their best hockey but as the game went on they got better. They still need their top guns to step up and be better but thanks to the kid line, Shesterkin, K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, and Ryan Lindgren they’ll have that chance Friday night in Pittsburgh to extend the series again. It also looks like people made much to do about nothing about Gerard Gallant having his team do a bag skate after an atrocious game four.