“I think the playoffs can sometimes reveal who you are, what kind of character you have,” Kreider said. “For him to stay with his game and continue to work, he’s been a great leader for us all year. He has been an absolute horse.”
The Rangers were down 2-0 after one period, and the Penguins, playing without Sidney Crosby, their star center and captain, were 40 minutes from advancing to the second round. But Zibanejad scored two goals on slap shots in one go in 76 seconds to tie the game.
“There is no abandonment,” Zibanejad said of the comeback. “That’s what I love about this team.”
A few minutes later there was another crazy breakout. The play began when Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers goalie, took advantage of a bad line change by the Penguins and made a perfect 100-foot stretch ball to Zibanejad’s post. Zibanejad was left alone again.
“His passing is sometimes better than all of us,” Zibanejad said of Shesterkin’s stickwork.
Penguins goaltender Louis Domingue made the opening save at Zibanejad, but Kreider was there with his linemate, and hit the rebound to give the Rangers the lead, 3-2. If that sounds similar to the scoring pattern of Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, it was, and would continue, until New York’s last net-empty goal at the end.
Evgeni Malkin scored as the Penguins tied things up, 3-3, on a late-second-period breakaway. The game remained tied until there was only 1:28 left to play. Kreider then hit a high shot that Domingue stopped in front of his chest, but the puck spun over his head and landed behind him and into the net.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. “They are a very good team. They have a lot of skilled players who can score goals.”