IF MARTIN St. Louis wasn't a fan favorite during his first 2 months with the New York Rangers, he certainly became one during a very emotional weekend.
St. Louis came to New York in March in a deal in which popular team captain Ryan Callahan was shipped to Tampa Bay. When he didn't light up the scoreboard right away, the Madison Square Garden crowd was slow to warm to him. That all changed last night.
Three days after the sudden death of his mother, St. Louis scored 3:34 in, and the Rangers avoided elimination for the second straight game by beating visiting Pittsburgh, 3-1.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is tomorrow in Pittsburgh. New York advanced in the first round with a Game 7 win over the Flyers.
St. Louis rejoined his teammates for Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Friday, after a quick trip to Montreal to be with his family. That dedication inspired his teammates during a 5-1 win and carried over to yesterday.
"It's probably one of the cooler things I've been a part of in my professional career," said Derek Stepan, who earned the first assist on St. Louis' goal. "The emotion on that goal is something that I will never forget."
Fans were already chanting "Mar-ty, Mar-ty" on his first shift. The cheers got louder after he scored. St. Louis, the first star of the game, patted his heart when he came out to an ovation from the crowd.
"Mother's Day, my dad is here, my sister is here," St. Louis said. "It's been a tough time for my whole family. To be able to get the lead in the first period, it was a good one."
But not the prettiest of goals. St. Louis got in good position in front of the net. Stepan swiped at the puck in traffic and knocked it off St. Louis' right leg and into the net.
"I got a pretty good bounce," St. Louis said. "I know [my mother] helped me through this. It's a great win by the guys."
Carl Hagelin pushed the Rangers' lead to 2-0 just 2:51 later, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots to keep Pittsburgh at bay.
Derick Brassard made it 3-1 in the second period. Brandon Sutter scored the lone goal for the Penguins, who got 26 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins, who led the series 3-1, failed in their first attempt to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-1 home loss on Friday. Now the pressure has shifted to them, and frustration is showing.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby took a penalty at the end of the second period that gave the Rangers a power play to start the third. Several scrums also broke out - including one after the final buzzer.
"With a minute left in the game, emotions run high," Crosby said. "I don't think that's why we lost. We put ourselves in a bad position early. We fought hard and tried to get back, but you can't continue to do that in the playoffs. You can't start like that."
In another game:
* At Chicago, Jonathan Toews scored early in the third period and the Blackhawks held on for a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild and a 3-2 lead in the series. Game 6 is tomorrow night.
* Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said he will not contest a fine of more than $2,800 for squirting water from the bench at Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in the final minute of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.