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Chris Kreider nets late winner as Rangers force Game 7 against Penguins

By Andrew Gross

PITTSBURGH — Both Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad were finally major factors, freed from having to chase Sidney Crosby around defensively.

And so the Rangers will play a Game 7 for the first time since 2015 as they try to complete a stunning rally from a 3-1 series deficit in their first-round series against the Penguins. They came back to win Friday night’s Game 6 at PPG Paints Arena, 5-3.

Game 7 is Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

Kreider and Zibanejad each had two goals as Kreider’s slap shot that blooped up and over goalie Louie Domingue’s mask with 1:28 left in regulation was the winner with Andrew Copp adding an empty-netter. Domingue finished with 33 saves.

The Penguins were without Crosby, who is out with a suspected concussion following defenseman Jacob Trouba’s inadvertent high hit in the Rangers’ wild, 5-3, Game 5 win on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Trouba became Public Enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh, booed whenever he touched the puck. Not that the sellout crowd forget about Igor Shesterkin (31 saves) with repeated, derisive “I-Gor, I-Gor” chants.

The Rangers lost Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh, 7-4 and 7-2, respectively, with Shesterkin being pulled from both starts after allowing a combined 10 goals in just three periods of work.

Crosby’s absence was an opportunity for Zibanejad and his top trio with Kreider and Frank Vatrano, which had been out of sorts as they drew the main defensive assignment against Crosby’s line.

“We haven’t created offense maybe enough,” Zibanejad said before the game. “Maybe a little bit too worried about the line we’re playing against. The best way to stop their offense is to create some of your own. I think maybe the focus has been too much on them. But we’re trying to work through it. It’s not easy. It’s not an easy opponent. We’re trying to play our game.”

It took awhile to get there, but Zibanejad was dominant in the second period.

The Penguins were in control before Evan Rodrigues took a silly roughing penalty on defenseman Ryan Lindgren at 5:00 of the second period, getting called for a retaliatory hit after Lindgren hit him. Five seconds later, Zibanejad, after winning the offensive zone faceoff, connected on a one-timer off Ryan Strome’s feed to bring the Rangers within 2-1.

He then connected on a one-timer from the left off defenseman Adam Fox’s feed to tie it at 2 at 6:21 of the second period. Zibanejad nearly made it a natural hat trick as he jumped out of the penalty box as the Rangers killed off a Penguins’ five-on-three advantage that lasted one minute, seven seconds, but he hit the post on a breakaway backhander.

Domingue again denied Zibanejad the hat trick with a glove save after Shesterkin’s brilliant up-ice feed led to a power-play odd-man rush. But Kreider knocked in the rebound to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 13:48 of the second period. That power play was courtesy of another needless Penguins’ penalty, as defenseman Mike Matheson was called for a four-minute high stick when he went to hit Vatrano from behind.

Evgeni Malkin, elevated into Crosby’s spot on the Penguins’ top line, tied it at 3 with a great individual effort at 16:36 of the second period. Malkin swiped Trouba’s pass out of the Penguins’ zone, then caught up to the puck up ice and beat Shesterkin on the breakaway.

The Rangers’ defensive deficiencies were on full display in the first period as the Penguins consistently won wall battles and constantly pinned them in their own zone by keeping them from touching the puck.

As a result, the Rangers could never quiet the raucous crowd.

Still, the Rangers escaped harm until Jeff Carter opened the scoring at 14:12 of the first period, knocking in the rebound of Kasperi Kapanen’s shot. Shesterkin had already made four saves on the sequence but, just as the Rangers couldn’t clear the crease, the goalie struggled with his rebound control.

Bryan Rust then buried a one-timer from the left circle to make it 2-0 at 15:58 as the Rangers were again caught scrambling in their zone.

Trouba and defense partner K’Andre Miller were on the ice for both goals.

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Dive Deeper:
Rangers rally, stave off elimination with Game 5 win over Penguins
The Rangers have a long way to go before salvaging their first-round playoff series against the Penguins, but on Wednesday…
Rangers eliminate Penguins on Artemi Panarin's overtime goal
NEW YORK – A series that began in Game 1 with a triple overtime marathon that tested both teams’ stamina…
Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Tristan Jarry out for Game 6 against Rangers
PITTSBURGH — The Penguins enter Game 6 against the New York Rangers without their captain Sidney Crosby, their No. 1…
As Sidney Crosby gets evaluated for upper-body injury, the spotlight again shines on Evgeni Malkin
NEW YORK — Back in November 2019, the fire alarm blared inside the visiting locker room at New Jersey’s Prudential…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Jacob Trouba’s dangerous hit up high on Sidney Crosby that took him out of Game 5 angered NHL fans
What an unnecessary, scary hit on Crosby.
Hurricanes beat Bruins in Game 7 of first round behind unlikely hero Max Domi’s 2 goals
RALEIGH, N.C. — It was Max Domi’s day and the Carolina Hurricanes’ game Saturday.
Get all your news in one place