Midway through the second period of the Rangers’ critical playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Penguins had the game and the series at their command. They led Rangers by two goals, dictating the game, and the fans inside Madison Square Garden were calm and pissed off.
Their hopeful season seemed desperately close to an end.
But then Jacob Trouba’s left arm, raised high, slammed into the face of Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who has performed as well in this series as he has ever done in his glittering career. It was a hit, with uncertain intent, according to Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, that changed the course of the game, and possibly even the series.
Crosby would leave the game for good, and Rangers scored all of their goals in his absence to win, 5-3, in a wild Game 5 comeback victory that took them 3-2 down in their now heated opener. . – round series.
The Rangers are still in danger of being eliminated in Game 6 on Friday night in Pittsburgh. There was no indication immediately after the game whether Crosby would be available or what his illness was beyond an upper-body injury, according to Sullivan.
Sullivan said his star player was still being evaluated after the game and did not provide any details on his condition. Thursday morning, the Penguins returned to Pittsburgh where Crosby would receive further evaluation.
When asked if he thought Trouba acted with intent to strike a sinister blow, Sullivan’s response was more contained in his stern, dry tone than in his words.
“Did you see the shot?” he asked a journalist, who replied in the affirmative. “You probably have the same opinion as me.”
Crosby fell to the ice following the hit, which came immediately after retrieving a loose puck from the Rangers defensive end. Crosby quickly found his feet and tried to continue playing. But he could not. He went to the bench and sat down, put his head down, then left for the locker room with about seven minutes left in the period.
Shortly after, Rangers unleashed a barrage of back-to-back goals from Adam Fox, Alexis Lafrenière and Trouba, who danced from the point for a clever backhand goal that added insult to Crosby’s injury.
One of the most decorated players of the past 20 years, Crosby won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, two Hart League Most Valuable Player Trophies and two Conn Smythe Playoff Most Valuable Player Trophies. In the first four games of this series, Crosby had two goals and seven assists.
But he also has a history of head injuries, the most serious of which occurred in 2011. For many skeptical New York fans, he also has a history of flopping in a perceived effort to draw penalties. But in this case, Crosby never even looked to the referees for a call.
No penalty was assessed on the play and the National Hockey League Player Safety Office will not issue any fines or suspensions to Trouba. The game moved quickly, and it could be argued that Trouba’s elbow was high as he tried to retrieve the loose puck and accidentally smashed Crosby’s face.
On Thursday, Trouba called the piece “fluky.”
“It wasn’t really an extremely hard contact,” he said. “Unfortunately, you never want to see anyone get hurt. I don’t know exactly what the injury is, but I hope he gets better soon.
And not all of the Penguins were convinced the room was dirty. Marcus Pettersson was also asked if he thought Trouba acted with intent to harm.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen it,” he said. “But I don’t think so. Both teams are playing hard.
The heavy blow came one game after Rangers coach Gerard Gallant criticized his team for being “soft” in Game 4 in Pittsburgh, a game the Penguins easily won. Gallant wasn’t asking tagged players to take low kicks, but rather to compete harder, fight for pucks along the boards and show more commitment on defense. They did all that.
But it was also clear from the first shift that Rangers were ready to be more physical. Chris Kreider and Trouba were called for concurrent penalties – Kreider for cutting and Trouba for elbowing, just 24 seconds into the game, and they seemed designed to set the tone. The Rangers safely killed the 5-on-3 power play and never looked like the soft, scoreless group they had been in Game 4 at Pittsburgh.
“They were competitive as hell tonight,” beamed Gallant, “and that’s what we expected of them.”
He was also pleased that Rangers starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin played much better in Game 5 than he had in the previous two games in Pittsburgh, when he allowed 10 goals in three periods. .
On Thursday, Gallant dismissed the idea that Trouba had acted maliciously, saying Crosby’s penchant for throwing and spinning on the ice could sometimes lead to accidental impact, and he stressed that Trouba was not trying to hurt him. .
But there’s no denying the impact Crosby’s absence has had on the game.
“Obviously he’s one of the best players in the world,” Gallant said. “They still had good chances. They still created a lot. He’s a great player for them, and I hope he’s doing well.
Rangers’ flurry of quick goals came within two minutes and six seconds of each other. Trouba’s strike, with just over two minutes left in the period, gave Rangers the lead and had the fans roaring so loudly that the press box bridge swung above the ‘excitement.
“The building was unreal,” Lafrenière said. “Really loud tonight.”
But that lead didn’t last long as Jake Guentzel scored just 13 seconds later to level the count, 3-3. It was his seventh goal of the series and his 33rd in 56 career playoff games.
Rangers took the lead for good on Filip Chytil’s power play goal three minutes into the third, his first playoff goal, and the team sealed victory on the goal in an empty net from Ryan Lindgren, securing a Game 6.
The Penguins were reluctant to blame their late second period collapse and loss on watching their captain walk down the tunnel to the locker room. But it was hard not to make the connection.
“He’s the best player in the world,” Guentzel said. “It’s been a lot of minutes that the guys have to accumulate and step up. So we just have to stick with that.