Don't bet against Rangers when it comes down to Game 7
One game for all the marbles. If you were choosing up sides for a dream Game 7, you'd have to figure that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would be your top two picks.
But somehow these pesky Rangers have owned Game 7 the past few postseasons. Now that they've clawed their way to another one in a series they seemed to have no business being in after Game 4, you might just rather have Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle and, of course, Henrik Lundqvist instead of Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the high-flying Penguins.
Sunday night's Game 6 looked an awful lot like Game 5, albeit with more stickwork from Pittsburgh and the NHL's best player. Crosby whacked Lundqvist near the end of the second period, then jabbed his stick into a very uncomfortable spot on Dominic Moore to spark a scrum at the second-period buzzer. He got a minor for crosschecking.
Crosby still wasn't done. He crosschecked Boyle in the final seconds of the third period but wasn't penalized.
It's not the sort of stickwork the Penguins want from Crosby. It's just the sort of behavior the Rangers want from Crosby, who seemed to be back on track with a big Game 3 goal but now has been more concerned with post-whistle business than the business of being the best player on the ice.
That's just one reason the Rangers should be feeling very, very good about heading back to Pittsburgh for tomorrow night's Game 7.
There are others, starting with another emotional lift from Martin St. Louis, who played with a real fire on Mother's Day just three days after losing his own mother. Rick Nash was booed in the Garden just four days earlier, but on Sunday night the Garden crowd was cheering for Nash as he frustrated Malkin with some good defense.
Yes, the faithful were cheering for backchecking and effort and penalty-killing. The fans want the highlight goals, too, but they seemed to understand that these Rangers make things happen only when they scratch and claw and grind.
There wasn't a pretty play among their goals in Game 6, unless you count Derick Brassard's hacky-sack play to get the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net in the second.
There was only effort and will, two things that have carried the Rangers in their last four Games 7 in the past three playoffs. They took down the Senators and Capitals in 2012, the Capitals again in Washington in 2013 and the Flyers just 12 days ago. That's four straight Game 7 wins, fueling this team's rep as one that plays its best when everything is on the line.
The Penguins, with their high-end talent, haven't played many Game 7s. They've either finished off teams quickly or been the ones finished off in a haze of frustration.
During the Crosby era, the Penguins have played two Game 7s at home, in the second round in 2010 and in the first round in 2011. They lost both, one to the Canadiens after holding a 3-2 series lead and one to the Lightning after holding a 3-1 series lead. St. Louis played on that Lightning team.
Perhaps those games are too long ago to matter. But the main Penguins cast remains intact from those losses. The Rangers have swapped in Alain Vigneault behind the bench for John Tortorella, the ultimate junkyard dog, but Lundqvist and Dan Girardi and Marc Staal still know all about dogfights for the right to move on.
The Penguins are a great team. The Rangers are Game 7-tested and Game 7-approved.
It's one game. Even without the stars, this doesn't seem like a good time to bet against the Rangers.