New York Rangers get another comeback win to force Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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PITTSBURGH — How many times can the New York Rangers dig themselves into a hole and climb back out?

At least one more, as of Friday night.

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The Blueshirts came out flat in a win-or-go-home situation at PPG Paints Arena, but stormed back from a two-goal deficit for the second consecutive game. Mika Zibanejad capped the 5-3 win against the Penguins in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series with Chris Kreider scoring the decisive goal with 1:28 remaining, sending the series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 7 on Sunday.

The Penguins were playing without star forward Sidney Crosby, who sat out after suffering an upper-body injury in Game 5, which ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported was a concussion.

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New york rangers get another comeback win to force game 7 vs. pittsburgh penguins

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The Rangers spent much of the first period pinned in their own zone. Their attempts to clear the puck were futile and lacking purpose, which would often result in the Penguins regaining possession quickly.

Eventually, it came back to bite them.

You couldn’t blame Igor Shesterkin for the first one. The Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist stopped three consecutive shots on that sequence, but the fourth was a backhanded rebound from Jeff Carter that made it 1-0 at the 14:12 mark.

Just 1:36 later, Jake Guentzel found Bryan Rust wide open for a backdoor pass and a one-timer that made it 2-0. Rust nestled into a spot that was vacated by Jacob Trouba, who was the subject of ire from the Pittsburgh crowd throughout the night for his Game 5 hit that resulted in Crosby’s concussion.

The hapless start put the Rangers’ season on life support, but much like they did in Game 5, they came roaring out of their slumber in the second period.

Mika Zibanejad has been the subject of criticism throughout this series for his lack of production. His line with Kreider and Frank Vatrano had been outscored, 7-2, entering Friday, with Zibanejad failing to score a goal through the first five games.

He looked outmatched in his head-to-head battle with Crosby, but the Game 6 absence of the Penguins’ best player opened things up for No. 93.

Zibanejad struck five seconds into the Rangers’ first power play at the 5:05 mark of the second period, winning a faceoff before unloading a one-timer from the top of the right circle on a feed from Ryan Strome to cut the deficit to 2-1. Then, just 1:16 later, he added a second goal on an even-strength one-timer, this one on a setup from Adam Fox.

That tied the score at 2-2, with Zibanejad nearly completing the hat trick a few minutes later when he came out of the penalty box and immediately got a breakaway opportunity. The shot hit the post, but he’d get another chance soon enough.

The Rangers were on another power play later in the period when the Penguins innocently cleared the puck. But there are no moments to relax when Shesterkin is handling the puck.

He came out of the net and flung a perfectly placed pass to the opposite blue line, sending Zibanejad off to the races. Pens goalie Louis Domingue made the initial save, but the rebound trickled out for an easy finish for Kreider.

That gave the Rangers a stunning 3-2 lead, with the three goals coming in a span of 8:43. But it wouldn’t last long.

With 3:24 left in the second period, an ill-advised cross-ice pass from Trouba was intercepted by Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins’ top-line center didn’t waste the opportunity, putting a forehand shot past Shesterkin to tie the game at 3-3.

That’s how it remained until late in the third period when Kreider scored on a shot that got away from Domingue.

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

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