When the New York Rangers returned from Pittsburgh earlier in the week, they were on the verge of being eliminated by the Penguins after two bad road losses.
After two fiery wins, they head home for a deciding Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night (7 p.m. EDT, TBS) with some momentum on their side.
“Game 7 is huge for us and now we have to make sure we finish it tomorrow and play the right way,” Rangers manager Gerard Gallant said on Saturday. “We worked hard to come back. I think everyone is really excited. … It’s a big game, that’s for sure. It’s great fun and I can’t wait to be there.
After falling to a 3-1 series hole, Rangers have a pair of 5-3 wins – at home and then back on the road – to even the series. In each of the last two wins, they trailed 2-0 before taking a lead with three straight second-period goals and letting the Penguins tie the game again. New York then retired in the third period.
Gallant said he wasn’t concerned about the team’s seemingly slow start as long as they eventually won.
“As long as we finish in a good way, I don’t care. It’s about winning the hockey game,” he said. “It’s worked for us so far, but I obviously don’t like it.”
Recovering from a deficit is nothing new for these Rangers. During the regular season, they had 27 wins, two fewer than the league-leading Florida Panthers.
“We don’t give up – that’s what I love about this team,” Mika Zibanejad said after the latest win. “We’ve shown that throughout the year, throughout this series. … It’s something special in this group and we will try to maintain it.
The Penguins have been through this before as they are 3-0 in Game 7 under coach Mike Sullivan, including the deciding road game against Washington in the second round of the 2017 playoffs.
“We’re confident in our game plan,” Pittsburgh forward Jeff Carter said. “If you go in with the right mindset and leave it all out, most of the time you’ll come out on top. This is what we will seek to do.
The Penguins could get a boost with possible returning injured players Sidney Crosby, Tristan Jarry and Rickard Rakell. They all practiced on Saturday and will travel to New York for the series finale. Jarry hasn’t played since April 14, Rakell was injured in Game 1 of this series, and Crosby left in the second period of Game 5.
It’s the fourth time in franchise history that the Rangers have forced a Game 7 after leading 3-1 in a series. Forward Chris Kreider is the only player who has appeared in the last two times he has – the second round against the Penguins in 2014 and the second round against Washington in 2015 – and has won each of the deciding games.
His message to his teammates is simple.
“I just need to settle in and play our game,” Kreider said. “I think we’ve done a better job in the last two games. … We’ve treated every game since we’ve been down like it’s Game 7, it’s do or die for us, so nothing changes.
STARS at FLAMES, series tied 3-3 (9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
The wild-card Stars won Game 6 at home to force Game 7 of the first round, trailing only the 1992 Division Semi-Finals (six) for the most in a single playoff round in history of the NHL.
“The league wants to make it competitive and tight, they got it,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s a tough league and it shows how competitive the balance is there. I know we’re not supposed to keep playing. We’re supposed to be on a golf vacation right now, but it wasn’t our intention. We didn’t come into the playoffs to be someone else’s stepping stone to the second round.
Although the Flames will be playing their first Game 7 since the first round of the 2008 playoffs against San Jose, coach Darryl Sutter is a master of deciding games. At 7-3, he is the league leader in Coaches wins in Game 7 and will become the leader in most appearances in Game 7. This will be his first win leading the Los Angeles Kings to three final road victories en route to the 2014 Stanley Cup title.
The Stars were last in a Game 7 in the second round of the 2020 playoffs against Colorado in the bubble in Edmonton, en route to their run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Bowness isn’t sure about the status of forward Luke Glendening, who was hit hard by Calgary’s Nikita Zadorov early in the second period of Game 6. No penalty was called on the play, but Glendening stayed on the ice for several minutes and headed to the locker room. He was on the bench for the third period, but did not play.
AP sportswriters Will Graves and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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