NEW YORK – If Martin St. Louis wasn’t a fan favorite during his first two 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 Sunday 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 the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is Tuesday in Pittsburgh. New York advanced in the first round with a Game 7 win over Philadelphia.
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 Sunday.
“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.
Blackhawks 2, Wild 1
In Minneapolis, Jonathan Toews had a tough rebound goal early in the third period, and the Blackhawks beat the Wild to take a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
“The whole game, the whole series has been very tight,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Still not a lot of room and space, but that’s what we’ve got to fight through. I thought we showed more determination in the puck area tonight.”
Bryan Bickell also scored and Corey Crawford made 27 saves as Chicago bounced back from consecutive losses in Minnesota that handed the momentum to the Wild heading into Game 5.
But the Blackhawks were back at the United Center, where they improved to 6-0 in this postseason and 17-2 over the past two playoffs.
“As the game went on, we found ways to play better as a five-man unit,” Toews said. “Once one line would generate a good shift and get us some energy, the next line would follow it right up. I think that’s when we’re an effective team, when we have four lines going like that and contributing.”
Game 6 is Tuesday night in Minnesota, where the Wild are undefeated in this postseason.