PITTSBURGH — Chris Kreider doesn’t believe in dwelling on the past. There’s just the next move for the New York Rangers star.
That’s why Kreider threw linemate Mika Zibanejad’s iPad to the floor out of frustration after Zibanejad walked away during the second period against Pittsburgh’s Louie Domingue on Friday night, which ended with Zibanejad hitting the post.
Kreider told Zibanejad to stop questioning himself. It was a good move. Did not enter. It happens. Just keep playing.
So did Zibanejad. Kreider too. And thanks to their relentlessness, the resilient Rangers are coming home for Game 7.
The two longtime teammates scored two goals each – including Kreider’s burst from the point that hit Domingue high, then went over the keeper’s head and rolled into the net with 1:28 remaining to lead Rangers to a victory 5-3 over Sidney Crosby- minus the Penguins to push their exciting first-round playoff series to the limit.
“Whatever the situation, I’m proud of the way this team competes,” said Kreider. “Whether we’re down or we’re up, we’re trying to get to our game, trying to play the same way.”
As they’ve done repeatedly throughout this upside-down series, the Rangers have bounced back from a multi-goal deficit and will host Game 7 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden with some serious momentum.
“We fought back afterwards (falling behind) and it showed some character in our group,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant.
A group looking to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. New York will have a chance thanks to a game from Kreider and Zibanejad, four assists from Adam Fox and 31 saves from Igor Shesterkin, who recovered from two shaky performances at the PPG Paints Arena in beginning of the series to silence the chants of “IIIGOOOORRRR” that rained down on him so often.
“He fights, that’s what he does,” Kreider said of Shesterkin, a finalist for the Vezina and Hart trophies. “He was our best player all year and he remains our best player.”
Pittsburgh’s best player, on the other hand, was forced to watch his team let a chance to advance slip away. The Penguins played without Crosby, who is dealing with an upper body injury that forced the captain to miss his first playoff game in five years.
For long stretches, it looked like Pittsburgh would find a way forward, even with Crosby’s familiar number 87 out of the lineup. Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter scored during the first period to put the Penguins at a 2-0 lead and Evgeni Malkin’s escape late in the second tied the game at 3 after Rangers took the lead.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Shesterkin held firm in the third period and Domingue – who played solid if not spectacularly, replacing injured starters Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith – scored his first truly smooth goal of the playoffs when Kreider’s relatively innocuous shot hit the keeper’s glove. then floated after him.
“Nobody said it would be easy,” said Pittsburgh defender Kris Letang. “They are a very good team. They have a lot of skilled players who can score goals. It’s a four-way race and we have to regroup, stay positive and get the job done.”
SPECIAL TEAMS ISSUES
The Penguins were in control at the start of the second period, when forward Evan Rodrigues was penalized for skidding after catching a hit along the boards from New Yorker Ryan Lindgren.
It took Zibanejad just 5 seconds to score with the man’s lead to provide the Rangers with a much-needed jolt and give him his first goal of the postseason. Zibanejad’s second came just 1:16 after another laser, this one from the right circle.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan scolded Rodrigues for not controlling his emotions.
“That’s a necessary part of winning this time of year,” Sullivan said.
So is the score when you’re in a 5-on-3. The Penguins failed to do so at the start of Game 5 in New York. They failed to do it again on Friday, generating little despite being 1:07 with a two-man lead. Pittsburgh went 0 for 3 in the power play of the night, while Rangers went 2 for 3.
“I think I’m probably stating the obvious, but the special teams made the difference,” Sullivan said. “We have to be better.”
GAME 7 UNCERTAINTY
Crosby skated Friday morning with Pittsburgh skating and skill development coach Ty Hennes, but was not part of the Penguins’ optional skate. His status for Sunday is unknown.
Jarry, who has been out of action since mid-April with a broken foot, was shot while skateboarding but was held up once again. Penguins forward Rickard Rakell lost his fifth straight game after taking a high blow in the series opener. Pittsburgh lost veteran Brian Boyle in the first period. Sullivan said Boyle was being evaluated for a lower body injury.
PREDICTING THE FUTURE?
Gallant said before the start of the playoffs that the only time home ice matters in the postseason is in Game 7.
“I hope I’m right,” Gallant said. “We played well in our building. And like I said, it’s Game 7. The winner goes on. The loser goes home. So I think it’s going to be a great game.”
The Penguins, by the way, are undefeated all-time (6-0) playing Game 7 away from home.