Game 5 proved to be one contest on a potential road to redemption for the New York Rangers in their first-round series vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins looked to be on their way to ending the series as they led 2-0 midway through the second period, but the home team bunkered down and fought back in front of its fans. The Rangers tallied three straight goals during the second period before Filip Chytil scored the game-winning goal at the beginning of the third period to help clinch a 5-3 win for them and force a Game 6 on May 13 at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins are waiting to see if core player Sidney Crosby will be in the lineup for Game 6 after leaving Game 5 during the second period with an upper-body injury after a hit from Jacob Trouba. Jake Guentzel, after struggling during the first-round series against the New York Islanders last year, has risen to the occasion for them so far in the 2022 Playoffs as he is tied for the lead in goals (seven) with the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov before the scheduled playoff games took place on May 12. They have experienced depth and have been led by veterans Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang for over a decade. Let’s take a look at what worked for the Rangers in Game 5, and what they need to win Game 6 to force a series-deciding Game 7.
Lindgren’s Return Was Huge For the Rangers
Ryan Lindgren suffered a lower-body injury during Game 1 vs. the Penguins and missed Games 2-4 before boosting the defense with his return in Game 5. He is a significant member of the Rangers’ roster and has been the defensive partner for top blueliner Adam Fox during the last few seasons. He is a physical defensive defenseman in comparison to his defensive partner and head coach Gerard Gallant commented on what he brings to the lineup:
“He’s a character guy, he plays hard. He plays all the time, and I don’t know how many minutes he played tonight, but it seemed like it was on the ice all night. He’s just one of those guys that make the other people around them better. [Lindgren] just keeps going and battles. We had a pretty good idea that he was going to be fine for the game. But we just wanted to make sure. I didn’t want to get caught with only five defensemen if he had to leave. He was fine. He battled hard and competed hard and did all the right things” (from ‘Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren has major impact in return from injury,’ New York Post, 5/12/22).
Lindgren and Barclay Goodrow were important depth players whom the Rangers missed after both suffered injuries during Game 1 and the return of the former energized a desperate team. Goodrow is not expected to return for the remainder of the series and the organization will need to continue to withstand his loss against the Penguins’ high-octane offense. The return of Lindgren is a benefit for a team that was on the brink of potentially losing the first-round series in five games.
The Rangers’ Offense Received Contributions From Their Depth Players
After not contributing any points during Games 1 and 2, Alexis Lafreniere has been a consistent contributor for the Rangers with points in Games 3-5 as he has totaled two goals and two assists. He tied Game 5 at two during the second period and had an assist on Chytil’s game-winning goal. Gallant’s decision to reunite the “Kid Line” of Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko has been a key secondary unit to the top two scoring lines against the Penguins.
Lafreniere commented on the performance of the “Kid Line” during Game 5, “I think we did a good job of staying calm and sticking to the game. It’s a lot of fun, but we have to work hard on every shift. I think we’re getting better but there’s still some things to correct but we’ll keep working on it. We’re playing as a unit. It’s fun to be part of this with the other guys playing so well” (from ‘Rangers’ Kid Line restores team’s identity to stave off elimination, New York Post, 5/11/22).
Through five games, the Rangers have not been reliant on a few players for offense. It is a good sign that they can receive steady offense throughout their lineup rather than relying heavily on Panarin, Kreider, and Zibanejad. The depth will remain key to whether they can come back against the Penguins.
Chytil commented on his approach to scoring the game-winning goal of Game 5, “I didn’t score so many goals during the season, I was thinking too much on my chances. So now I just close [my] eyes and shoot and score a goal finally. I’m so happy I could help the team.”
Trade deadline acquisitions Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp have been steady contributors for the Rangers during the Penguins series. Vatrano has benefited from playing regularly on the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad while Copp’s versatility to play center or wing allows him to play on the second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome. Besides bottom-six players Ryan Reaves and Kevin Rooney, Zibanejad is the only offensive forward to not have any goals playing in all five games. He has a reputation for being a streaky scorer and may begin to get going in Game 6, which could end up being significant for the team forcing a Game 7 as he is a difference-maker for them.
Shesterkin Rebounded to His MVP Caliber Play in Game 5
Igor Shesterkin had pressure to redeem himself after being pulled by Gallant in Games 3 and 4. The Rangers’ starting netminder did not allow the Penguins to score a plethora of goals during a period in Game 5 like what transpired at the PPG Paints Arena. He limited his opponents to one goal during the first and to scoring two goals in the second period while his teammates tallied three goals to help out their goalie.
Shesterkin rose to the occasion and did not allow any goals on the 15 shots he faced during the third period in a close Game 5. His play during the contest helped the Rangers avoid elimination and go on to have an opportunity to tie the series if they win Game 6 in Pittsburgh. Based upon his play and that of the team defense in Games 3 and 4, they have their work cut out for them heading back to the PPG Paints Arena and needing another win to continue the series. His mental toughness will be put to the test on the road with the season on the line and he will need to remain calm and focused to do his part for them to have a chance to force a Game 7.
The Rangers have a tall order in needing to win on the road to force a deciding game on their home ice. Crosby’s uncertain status for Game 6 creates uncertainty for the Penguins’ lineup but head coach Mike Sullivan and the experienced roster will be ready to play and looking to take advantage of clinching the series at home. They will have their backs against the wall for a second consecutive game and need to play their best game of the season to continue a series in a Game 7.
Lindgren’s return and the play of Lafreniere, Chytil, Shesterkin, and Trouba proved to be enough to continue the series. The young team is gaining playoff experience against a franchise that is one of the seasoned organizations in regard to postseason play. If the Rangers prevent the Penguins from offensive outbursts that they had during Games 3 and 4, they will have a chance to win on the road and force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. If the Rangers’ team defense is sloppy and turnover-prone, the Penguins will take advantage and close out the series.