Martin St. Louis skated to center ice, his hand patting his chest as Madison Square Garden roared his name in a chant that was equal parts approval and embrace after he was named the night’s first star.
Three days after his mother, France, passed away suddenly following a heart attack, her son scored the first of the Rangers’ three goals in their 3-1 Mother’s Day win over the Penguins in Game 6 of the Metropolitan Division finals Sunday night at the Garden.
The win forced a Game 7 set for 7 p.m. Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“Mother’s Day, my dad’s here, my sister’s 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.”
His father, Edmund, and his sister, Isabelle, travelled from their home in Laval, Quebec, for the game.
St. Louis’ goal, his third of the Stanley Cup playoffs, came on his first shift of the game. As soon as he jumped over the boards, the Garden crowd chanted his name. Seconds later, they screamed in joyous delirium after he tucked a loose puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury (26 saves).
“We were pretty elated for him,” Brian Boyle said. “That was really exciting. We were happy for him [and] it’s a big goal for us, obviously. At the same time we had to keep playing. We had to go out and try to get the next one.”
And they did when Carl Hagelin pushed the advantage to 2-0 nearly three minutes later when his backhander fluttered through the Penguins goaltender.
The Rangers were in control with a 2-0 lead and the Garden was in full throat. But by the end of the period, a Penguins surge saw the visitors outshoot the Rangers 13-7 and outscore them 1-0 after Hagelin’s goal.
Pittsburgh’s goal was a flukey, a harmless-looking shot off Brandon Sutter’s stick that ricocheted off John Moore and Kevin Klein before finding its way past Henrik Lundqvist.
“They pushed back,” St. Louis said.
But the Sutter goal is all Lundqvist would allow in a 36-save effort.
“Goaltending is a huge part in winning games,” said head coach Alain Vigneault, who used his postgame press conference to complain about the Penguins poking at Lundqvist following stoppages in play. “When there’s mistakes you need someone to bail you out when those mistakes are [made]. Obviously we can’t play a perfect game, and with that firepower that they have, they’re going to get some looks, they’re going to get some chances. When they do, we need Hank to step up and stop the puck.”
Lundqvist allowed the Rangers to hold onto the lead until Derick Brassard extended the advantage to 3-1. Brassard drove to the net and shoved Benoit Pouliot’s shot into the cage after it deflected off his glove.
“It was a big goal,” Brassard said. “It gave us a cushion. We’re playing well right now.”
Indeed, the Rangers have won the last two games in the series by an aggregate 8-2 following a closed-door team meeting after an inexplicably poor 4-2 loss in Game 4. Instead of salvaging pride, the team has the opportunity to become the first squad in franchise history to win a best-of-seven after trailing 3-1.
“We didn’t feel good about [Game 4] and the next day we really didn’t feel good about it,” Brian Boyle said. “I think to a man, after a loss, the next day — aside from ending the season — that’s probably the worst I’ve seen this team feel. Ultimately I think it was a good thing.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.