Veterans take lead in Rangers victory
NEW YORK — Alain Vigneault was steadfast in his belief that the New York Rangers would not flatline emotionally.
Then Henrik Lundqvist and Martin St. Louis went out and made their coach look prescient.
That the Rangers have dragged the Eastern Conference semifinal to a Game 7 on Tuesday is in part because of the efforts of the team's stars Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. St. Louis scored New York's first goal in a 3-1 win over the Penguins , and Lundqvist was superlative in a 36-save outing.
“We played a great game,” Lundqvist said. “We set the tone right away, and when Marty scores that goal, it's such a beautiful moment. It's really emotional to watch that. I think the entire team (fed) from that moment.”
That the win came on Mother's Day, three days after St. Louis' mother, France, died after a heart attack, was not lost on anyone. The Rangers have rallied around their new teammate, who had his father, Normand, and sister, Isabelle, in the building.
“Mother's Day, my dad's here, my sister's here. It's been a tough time for my whole family,” St. Louis said. “To be able to get the lead in the first period, it was a good one.”
St. Louis' reaction after tapping Derek Stepan's rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury 3:34 in could be viewed as nothing less than an emotional release.
Almost immediately after the puck crossed the goal line, St. Louis leaped into the air, then punched the glass twice. It was a moment that could not be scripted.
“It's one of the coolest things I've been a part of in my four years,” Stepan said. “It's something I'll never forget.
“I have so much respect for Marty, and for him to get a goal like that, I couldn't be happier for him.”
The Rangers had a 1-0 lead, which grew to 2-0 after Carl Hagelin's goal three minutes later. Then it was Lundqvist's turn to do what he has done so many times for the Rangers: Keep his team ahead.
Lundqvist stood steadfast as the Penguins pressed. His lone mistake was one that wasn't much his fault. Brandon Sutter's innocent wrister pinballed off of defenseman John Moore and Kevin Klein into the net to cut New York's lead to 2-1.
That was as close as the Penguins came, despite outshooting the Rangers 36-29. Lundqvist so frustrated the Penguins that they were relegated to jabbing him with their sticks after he froze the puck, which Vigneault noted in during his postgame news conference.
The New York goaltender left the Garden with a 9-2 mark in his past 11 do-or-die games with a 1.35 goals-against average, .955 save percentage and two shutouts.
“Goaltending is huge part in winning games,” Vigneault said. “When there's mistakes, you need someone to bail you out.”
Denis Gorman is a freelance writer.