AV, Richards on MSL, Kreider and Game 5

By Matt Calamia

Friday night for the Rangers was special in many ways for the Rangers following the untimely death of Martin St. Louis’ mother, France, the day prior.

The team rallied around the situation for a spirited and inspired 5-1 victory in Game 5 in Pittsburgh to stave off elimination and force another must-win Game 6 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, which also coincides with Mother’s Day.

“It’s going to be an emotional night,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said on a conference call Saturday afternoon following the team’s landing in New York. The Rangers were forced to spend the night in Pittsburgh rather than flying home immediately after Game 5 due to fog in New York City. “We’ve been able to focus in the right areas, and I think that’s what we did last night.”

The Rangers and Martin St. Louis found out about France St. Louis’ passing Thursday when they landed in Pittsburgh, and according to Brad Richards, the team wanted to be with the forward in his time of need.

Richards said the 36 or so hours between hearing the news and playing the game “was tough because we all wanted to go back to Montreal with him,” he said. Richards added that when they saw him Friday morning, “the team kind of rallied around” the situation and used it as motivation.

Vigneault said St. Louis flew back up to Montreal and will return for Sunday’s game. Both St. Louis’ father and sister will be in attendance Sunday night for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

Both Vigneault and Richards were impressed with the way Chris Kreider improved in his second game back in the lineup. The young forward scored the Rangers’ first goal — on the power play — in the first period, and used his speed and physicality to make life difficult for Penguins forwards.

“Obviously our intentions here are to keep playing and the more he plays … the better he’s going to become,” Vigneault said of Kreider, who added an assist in 11:55 of ice time.

After missing 19 games with a hand injury, timing was definitely an issue for Kreider in Game 4. But working in Kreider’s favor is his athleticism, according to Vigneault.

“It’s a bit of a challenge [to miss the time Kreider did],” Vigneault said, “but one thing Kreiders has is he’s a tremendously conditioned athlete. He really takes care of himself physically.”

Richards echoed Vigneault’s assessment of Kreider, and called him one of the “strongest hockey players I’ve ever seen in the gym.” Richards added that Kreider was fortunate the injury was to his hand in that he was still able to skate while rehabbing.

The difference between the Rangers in Game 4 and Game 5 was stark. The Blueshirts put up four goals on 35 shots against Marc-Andre Fleury last night, just 48 hours after scoring just two on 15 shots.

“We had the puck more,” Richards said bluntly. “I just think we skated a lot better in Game 5 as a whole team.

“We kept jumping on pucks and getting back together up the ice as quick as possible,” Richards added. “It all starts with skating an not just one guy on a line … everyone was kind of in unison.”

Vigneault said he expects more of the same from the Rangers tomorrow night because really, the Rangers have no other choice.

“Our guys focused on our play [in Game 5],” Vigneault said. “If you don’t bring your A-game … your season is probably going to end.”