Rangers resilient again in Game 6 win against Penguins

PITTSBURGH – The New York Rangers were again down by two goals and facing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This time, the adversity hit them in a hostile atmosphere at PPG Paints Arena. Two nights earlier, it was the same situation in a tense Madison Square Garden.

Their resilience again allowed them to respond for another season-saving win.

For the second straight game in the Eastern Conference First Round, the Rangers came back and fought off elimination for a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 on Friday.

Game 7 is at New York on Sunday. The Rangers earned it by doing what they’ve been doing all season.

“The guys that we have in there, I feel like it’s a big family,” center Mika Zibanejad said. “Everyone wants the same thing. Everyone is working for each other. Everyone wants success for the guy sitting next to you. It’s honestly one of the biggest reasons why we’re here today. We’ve shown it throughout the year, throughout this series, and that’s something, you don’t get that for free. It’s something special about this group, and we’ve just got to keep going. “

Igor Shesterkin kept it going despite playing in what is likely the most unwelcoming environment he’s experienced in hockey, one that got the better of him in Games 3 and 4. He was pulled from both and allowed 10 goals on 45 shots in three periods.

Shesterkin, a finalist this season for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goalie in the NHL, and Hart Trophy, awarded to the League MVP, got some redemption on the 18,342 that were chanting “Igor, Igor, Igor” all night long by making 31 saves, including 20 on 21 shots after the first period.

“It’s very difficult,” Shesterkin said. “They tried to go to my mind, but I tried to keep focus. When they tried to say ‘Igor,’ I just say, ‘OK.’ “

Shesterkin doesn’t need to say more, or anything at all, for the Rangers to believe in him.

After a 7-2 loss in Game 4, coach Gerard Gallant wasted no time saying Shesterkin was going to start Game 5. His teammates’ faith in him never wavered either.

“That’s Igor, he’s a competitor, done it all year for us, done it at every level he’s played at,” left wing Chris Kreider said. “He battles, that’s what he does. He’s been our best player all year and continues to be our best player.”

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs Penguins series coverage]

Another one of the Rangers’ top players got it going too.

Zibanejad had no goals in the series entering Game 6. He scored on the power play at 5:05 to pull the Rangers within 2-1, then scored again 1:16 later to make it 2-2.

Scoring back-to-back goals was almost like a weight lifted from Zibanejad’s back.

He talked somewhat dejectedly Friday morning about how he had waited since 2017 for the opportunity to play in the playoffs in front of fans and how he was having a hard time enjoying it. He also talked about he and the Rangers needed to start focusing on themselves and what they do well instead of always being preoccupied with the Penguins.

“He feels a lot better, there’s no doubt,” Gallant said after the game. “Mika puts a lot of pressure on himself and he hates seeing a little minus-2 beside his name before the game, but you’ve just got to relax and go play your game. Have fun, Mika. Go play and don’t “He’s a great player. He’s felt loose tonight. You know, go play, and that’s what he did.”

Zibanejad nearly scored a third goal for a natural hat trick four minutes after he made it 2-2. He got a shorthanded breakaway coming out of the penalty box after the Rangers killed off a 5-on-3 for 1:07, but his backhand hit the left post.

Zibanejad came back to the bench after the shift and asked a trainer to hand him an iPad so he could see what he did on the breakaway. Kreider grabbed the iPad and tossed it hard onto the floor behind him.

“He was looking at the breakaway and I heard him start second-guessing his move and didn’t really like that,” Kreider said. “He beat him clean, hit the post. Don’t need to second-guess.”

Kreider was just saving Zibanejad from himself at the time. But that moment also defines the Rangers and their resiliency.

They don’t second-guess what happens, not after a loss like they had here in Game 4, not after going down 2-0 in Game 5 and again in Game 6.

The Rangers had 27 comeback wins during the regular season. The only time they lost as many as three games in a row in regulation was the last week of the season, when they already had a playoff berth clinched.

What they have done in this series to force Game 7 is exactly what they’ve been doing all season.

“Good coaches, good young guys, good vets, good room,” Kreider said. “We’ve been able to come together as a team through hard times over the course of the year, over the course of the last couple years. I think it’s been a long time coming for us. Regardless of the situation, I’m proud of the way this team competes. “

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