At a glance: It has been an improbable comeback for these New York Rangers, but the Blueshirts have battled back from a 3-1 hole in their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins to force a winner-takes-all Game 7 in the Steel City on Tuesday night. It’s only the second time in franchise history -- the last time was 75 years ago -- that the Rangers have rallied from such a daunting deficit to force a Game 7, and they have been stellar in Game 7s in recent history. The Rangers have won four of the last five Game 7s they have played, including their first-round series this year against the Philadelphia Flyers. Meanwhile, pressure mounts for the Penguins, who will try desperately to avoid the type of collapse that would most certainly result in changes this offseason. Unfortunately for the Penguins, their home ice has historically not been so kind in these sorts of situations. The Pens have dropped three straight Game 7s on home ice.
New purpose: Earlier in the series, the Rangers appeared haggard, falling into a two-game series hole that had many people assuming it could be another hasty second-round exit (the Rangers were bounced in five games by the Boston Bruins in the second round last spring). The team has experienced a dramatic about-face, however, following a tragedy that sent ripples through a reeling dressing room. Ever since veteran forward Martin St. Louis lost his mother to a heart attack Thursday -- he returned to play in Game 5, just one day after her unexpected death -- the Rangers seem armed with an entirely new purpose. New York has been energized, dynamic and dominant against a Penguins squad that seems to be quickly losing its swagger.
Struggling stars: The winner of Game 7 may come down to which team’s stars step up in the most pressure-packed of situations. For the Penguins, Sidney Crosby's ineffectiveness, particularly in the past two games, has been glaring. The star center has only one goal in this series, and just one in 12 games in the playoffs. Those struggles have elicited ample displays of frustration, as No. 87 was involved in several scrums and post-whistle battles in Game 6. For the Rangers, the spotlight and scrutiny continues to shine on Rick Nash, who has yet to find the back of the net this postseason. Though Nash was active and defensively sound in Game 6, he still hasn’t asserted himself nearly enough offensively. So far, Nash has scored just one goal in 29 playoff games in his two years with the Rangers.
Battle in the nets: If the game does not hinge on each team’s respective stars, it will likely come down to the goaltenders. While Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3, his play has not been as pristine at the tail end of this series. The Rangers hold the definitive edge here with former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. Lundqvist has also been sensational in Game 7 situations; he has a 4-1 record with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage.