Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A day after the New York Rangers lost their third straight game to go down 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Martin St. Louis received the kind of news that makes losing a playoff series seem insignificant.
St. Louis lost his mother, France, when she died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 63 on Thursday. The next day he was in the lineup to give a much-needed emotional lift to the Rangers in a 5-1 victory that staved off elimination.
Fittingly, St. Louis saved the real heroics for Mother's Day when he scored the first goal of Game 6 to spark the Rangers to a memorable 3-1 victory, one that has forced a decisive seventh game in Pittsburgh and keeps New York's Stanley Cup dreams afloat.
With his father and sister in attendance Sunday at Madison Square Garden, St. Louis received tremendous support from the home crowd simply for being there. The MSG faithful showered the veteran winger with chants of "Marty! Marty!" when he stepped on the ice for his first shift of the game, but it was his second shift that truly made Sunday evening special.
Sans context, it wasn't exactly a highlight-reel goal, but the ensuing celebration told another story.
Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman wristed a shot from the high slot that was stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury. The puck then hit off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen in front of the crease and trickled to Derek Stepan, who caromed a backhand shot off of St. Louis and into the net for a 1-0 lead just 3:34 into the game.
St. Louis punched the end boards before his teammates swarmed him to relish in their teammate's cathartic moment.
"It's probably one of the cooler things I've been a part of in my professional career," Stepan said. "The emotion on that goal is something that I will never forget. With what he's been through in the past couple of games, for him to score that goal, and in the way he did, it is something I won't forget for sure."
No matter who you were pulling for on the scoreboard, you had to smile at the turn of events. Just three days after France St. Louis died, her son managed to score a huge playoff goal for his team on Mother's Day. It's the kind of story line that would be tough to pull off in a Hollywood movie because more than likely it would come off as heavy-handed or corny. In real life, however, it was touching and the perfect Mother's Day tribute.
"It was Mother's Day. My dad's here, my sister's here, it's been a tough time for my whole family ... it was a good moment," said an emotional St. Louis.
New York road the wave of emotion from that point on with Carl Hagelin scoring the eventual game-winner less than three minutes later. Henrik Lundqvist did the rest, stopping 36-of-37 shots sent his way to even this Eastern Conference semifinal at three games apiece.
"When he scored, on the bench you could see everyone jumping around," said teammate Derick Brassard of the St. Louis goal. "After that we really took off."
The Rangers seemed done after getting smothered by Pittsburgh in Games 2, 3 and 4, only to find inspiration and a way back into this series by rallying around a grieving teammate. Of course, New York had to do more than simply want to win for St. Louis, the club actually went out and played better, but you have to be dense or born with a heart of stone to think St. Louis' tragedy hasn't been a rallying point for the Blueshirts.
Several days ago, folks were talking about whether the Rangers should have messed with their team chemistry by dealing captain Ryan Callahan to land St. Louis at this season's trade deadline. Over the last two games, New York not only has silenced those critics but also has managed to come together as a team.
The Rangers hope to keep feeding off this intangible source of confidence on Tuesday when they try to beat the suddenly reeling Penguins on the road. Less than a week ago, Pittsburgh was the confident team while New York searched for answers. At this point, there is little doubt those roles have been reversed.
The Penguins not only have to find a way to match the intensity of New York in Game 7, but also figure out a way to beat Lundqvist, who after Sunday's win is now 9-2 with a 1.35 goals against average and .955 save percentage over 11 career elimination games.
Heading into Game 7, all the pressure has shifted over to the Pittsburgh side. Once again the Pens are being looked at as a talented team with a penchant for melting down in the playoffs. New York, however, is free to play it fast and loose as it chases down a memorable series comeback.
"We wanted to give ourselves a chance, we won two games, and now we have a Game 7," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "Now we go to Pittsburgh and we've got a chance."
It took tragic circumstances for the Rangers and St. Louis to finally jell. But now that it's happened, New York has more than a chance.