As of last Wednesday, the New York Rangers were looking to be on their last legs. The team had lost control of their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, down 3-1 and not exactly playing quality hockey. Unfortunately, things would only get worse for one of New York’s best players the next day.
Martin St. Louis was given heart-breaking news last Thursday as he found out his mother had unexpectedly passed away. After flying home to be with his family, he decided she would’ve wanted him to play in Game 5 on Friday, so he did so, albeit with a heavy heart. The resulting game was easily the Rangers best effort of the series, as they blew out Pittsburgh 5-1, with the team no doubt motivated by St. Louis’ return.
If Friday’s Game 5 win was inspirational, yesterday’s Game 6 was something else entirely.
St. Louis’ emotional roller coaster hit a new level, taking the Madison Square Garden ice on Mother’s Day with his father and sister in attendance. It seemed only fitting, then, that he should open up the scoring. Potting the first goal on a rebound in the crease, St. Louis gave the Rangers a lead they wouldn’t yield. New York’s overall effort from Friday’s victory carried over, and a team that once looked well on their way out of the playoffs has now forced Game 7.
It’s an amazing turnaround for New York. The team appeared listless and completely incapable of cashing in on scoring chances in their three consecutive losses to the Penguins. The Rangers were getting booed on home ice, and stealing a victory in Pittsburgh while down 3-1 seemed like a near-impossible task. And yet, here they are, not only pushing the Penguins to the brink, but looking like a completely different team in doing so. In rallying behind their grieving teammate, New York is now looking more dangerous than ever.
It just goes to show how well-respected St. Louis is in the NHL. There isn’t one player, on his team or any other, that would’ve blamed him if he decided he just wasn’t ready to return to action in Game 5. In fact, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault even suggested St. Louis stay home to be with his family. In the end, though, St. Louis wanted to be there to help his club claw their way back into the series. Knowing what he was going through emotionally, the Rangers rallied like there was no tomorrow – and, essentially, there wasn’t – to even the series.
Obviously, it’s unfortunate that St. Louis going through such a tragic event was what eventually inspired New York to elevate their intensity. Be that as it may, his returning to action just a day after his mother passed showed his teammates how much he wanted to be there for them. The Rangers returned the favor, and as a result sit one win away from eliminating a Pittsburgh team that at one point had them on the run.