The New York Rangers had a tall order to win a consecutive game after falling into a 3-1 deficit during the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had a terrible showing during the first period of Game 3 as they allowed four goals followed by five goals during the second period of Game 4. After winning Game 5 on their home ice, they needed to tie the series on the road.
Despite missing star player Sidney Crosby in Game 6, the Penguins struck first as they scored two goals during the first period and kept their opponents off of the scoreboard. They were at a disadvantage and it appeared the home team would go on to win Game 6 and advance to the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, their core players rose to the occasion when they were needed most and managed to take control of the second and third periods to force a Game 7 on May 15 at Madison Square Garden. Let’s take a look at how the Rangers can win Game 7.
Zibanejad, Kreider, and Fox Repeat Their Game 6 Performances
Before the second period of Game 6, Mika Zibanejad was the only primary offensive player who had yet to contribute a goal during the series against the Penguins. The Rangers’ chances of forcing a Game 7 would increase if he managed to score at least one goal during the sixth contest of the series. He matched the four points he tallied during the first five games of the series with his performance in Pittsburgh on May 13, which included two goals and two assists.
Chris Kreider commented on Zibanejad’s work ethic following the Game 6 win, “Even when the puck’s not going in for him, he still does so many things that are underappreciated. It’s insane. I think the playoffs can reveal who you are and the kind of character you have. For him to stay with his game, and continue to work and continue to work, he’s been a huge, huge leader for us all year. He’s been an absolute horse. He’s been our engine” (from ‘Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider return to star form to lift Rangers to Game 7, New York Post, 5/14/22).
After going through a three-game scoreless streak, Kreider rebounded with his best game of the series as he contributed two goals, including the game-winner toward the end of regulation during Game 6. The timing of his second goal of the contest could be the key momentum-swinging moment if the Rangers go on to complete the 3-1 comeback and win Game 7. The top line of Kreider (plus-2), Zibanejad (plus-2), and Frank Vatrano (plus-1) had a good game in terms of plus/minus after struggling for the majority of the series in that category aside from Game 2.
Adam Fox had his best game of the series, finishing with four assists and exemplifying his reputation as one of the best puck distributors in the NHL. If the Rangers are to advance past the first round, he needs to be a key player and he has either a goal or an assist in all six games against the Penguins. The reigning Norris Trophy winner has proven he is capable of being the best defenseman in the league with his performance thus far during the postseason.
Rangers Special Teams Prove to Be Significant Again
The Rangers’ penalty kill shut down the Penguins during the May 13 contest as their power play finished 0-for-3 and they finished 2-3 on the man advantage. Zibanejad and Kreider scored power-play goals during the second period, and the former had an assist on the latter’s tally on the man advantage. Their performance on special teams during Game 6 was significant to sustain the series.
Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan emphasized the role of their special teams in the Game 6 outcome, “The special teams were the difference. We’ve got to be better on the power play. We’ve got to be better on the penalty kill” (from ‘Rangers’ power play finally erupts after series-long struggles,’ New York Post, 5/14/22).
Kreider commented on the Rangers’ performance on the power play, “I think it was nice to see it go in. I think we’ve been doing a lot of good things on the power play. You want to at least generate momentum if the puck’s not going in. But at the same time, you want to see the puck go in. Doing a lot of good things and not getting results is one thing.… It was good we were able to cash in.” During the Rangers’ three victories in the series, they have scored at least one power-play goal and their penalty kill has kept the Penguins without a goal. To win Game 7, they will need to keep players such as Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Sidney Crosby (if he plays) from generating any momentum on the power play.
How the Rangers Win Game 7 Against the Penguins
The best recipe for the Rangers to advance past the first round is to repeat their performance during Game 6 as it was arguably their finest performance against the Penguins during the series. Zibanejad, Kreider, Fox, Igor Shesterkin, and Artemi Panarin need to have their best game of the season collectively to win on their home ice. They have carried the team during the regular season and need to prove they are capable of winning at least one series during the playoffs.
The Rangers are in the midst of potentially completing a 3-1 comeback if they go on to win Game 7 in front of their fans. After Game 4, they looked like they were at a disadvantage as the Penguins dominated them during the first period of Game 3 and the second period of Game 4, which resulted in Rangers’ head coach Gerard Gallant pulling Shesterkin during both road games. The Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist has responded nicely after his performances during the third and fourth games of the series. Their core players have turned the organization from a rebuilder into a contender during 2021-22 and winning at least one playoff series this postseason will raise expectations next year for them to take the next step toward becoming one of the top franchises. Anything can happen in a Game 7 and completing the comeback will be the ultimate boost to the confidence of the young organization entering the second round of the playoffs.