If Martin St. Louis wasn’t a fan favorite during his first two months with the New York Rangers, he certainly became one during a very emotional weekend.
St. Louis came to New York in March in a deal in which popular team captain Ryan Callahan was shipped to Tampa Bay. When he didn’t light up the scoreboard right away, the Madison Square Garden crowd was slow to warm to him.
That all changed Sunday night.
Three days after the sudden death of his mother, St. Louis scored 3:34 in, and the Rangers avoided elimination for the second straight game by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is Tuesday in Pittsburgh. New York advanced in the first round with a Game 7 win over Philadelphia.
St. Louis rejoined his teammates for Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Friday, after a quick trip to Montreal to be with his family. That dedication inspired his teammates during a 5-1 win and carried over to Sunday.
"It’s probably one of the cooler things I’ve been a part of in my professional career," said Derek Stepan, who earned the first assist on St. Louis’ goal. "The emotion on that goal is something that I will never forget."
Fans were already chanting "Mar-ty, Mar-ty" on his first shift. The cheers got louder after he scored. St. Louis, the first star of the game, patted his heart when he came out to an ovation from the crowd.
"Mother’s Day, my dad is here, my sister is here," St. Louis said. "It’s been a tough time for my whole family. To be able to get the lead in the first period, it was a good one."
But not the prettiest of goals. St. Louis got in good position in front of the net. Stepan swiped at the puck in traffic and knocked it off St. Louis’ right leg and into the net.
"I got a pretty good bounce," St. Louis said. "I know (my mother) helped me through this. It’s a great win by the guys."
Carl Hagelin pushed the Rangers’ lead to 2-0 just 2:51 later, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots to keep Pittsburgh at bay.
Derick Brassard made it 3-1 in the second period. Brandon Sutter scored the lone goal for the Penguins, who got 26 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins, who led the series 3-1, failed in their first attempt to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-1 home loss on Friday. Now the pressure has shifted to them, and frustration is showing.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby took a penalty at the end of the second period that gave the Rangers a power play to start the third. Several scrums also broke out – including one after the final buzzer.
"With a minute left in the game, emotions run high," Crosby said. "I don’t think that’s why we lost. We put ourselves in a bad position early. We fought hard and tried to get back, but you can’t continue to do that in the playoffs. You can’t start like that."
The team that has scored first has won every game.
Under coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins are 1-7 at home when having a chance to clinch a series. Overall, the Penguins are 2-6 in Game 7s in Pittsburgh.
On the flip side, the Rangers are 9-2 in their past 11 games when facing elimination, dating to Game 6 of the first round in 2012 at Ottawa. New York has never won a series it trailed 3-1 and has never beaten the Penguins in the playoffs.
Buoyed by another early lead, the Rangers pressed for more, and got it on Hagelin’s unassisted goal at 6:25. Hagelin’s initial shot attempt from the left-wing boards was blocked by defenseman Rob Scuderi. Hagelin got to the loose puck in the center of the left circle and sent a hard backhand sailing past Fleury for his fourth of the postseason.
Bylsma burned his lone timeout to try to calm his team that was being outshot 7-2. Pittsburgh reversed that trend and cut its deficit in half before the end of the first.
The Penguins started to gain momentum after they killed a roughing penalty against Jussi Jokinen and then received their first power play after Chris Kreider knocked down Jokinen at the edge of the crease with 8:40 left in the period.
New York had built its shots edge to 12-3, but then helped the Penguins make the score 2-1. Sutter flung the puck toward the net, and it appeared to hit Rangers defenseman John Moore and then bounce in off the foot of defenseman Kevin Klein near the left post with 3:04 left. Lundqvist was clearly agitated by the late goal by Pittsburgh, which led 15-14 in shots in the first period.
The teams both had chances in the middle period, and neither could connect on a pair of power plays.
Pittsburgh twice challenged Lundqvist with short-handed breakaways, and the Rangers had a goal waved off at 5:55 when Kreider was called for goalie interference after he was shoved from behind into Fleury by Kris Letang.
The Rangers made it 3-1 with 4:30 remaining in the period – 25 seconds after Mats Zuccarello finished serving a tripping penalty.
Brassard lunged, knocked the puck out of the air, and scored his third goal in two games and fourth in the series. Benoit Pouliot earned an assist, giving the line of Pouliot, Brassard, and Zuccarello 12 goals and 15 assists in 10 games – regular season and playoffs – against Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The Penguins dropped to 9-3 at the Garden in the playoffs and 15-15 overall in Game 6s. … Lundqvist made his 79th consecutive playoff start, tying Fleury for third place on the NHL list among goalies with one team. … The Rangers were 0 for 6 on the power play. Pittsburgh was 0 for 4.