Rangers won’t change approach if Crosby out for Penguins for Game 6

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The New York Rangers’ mindset going into the second of what they hope will be three must-win games in the Eastern Conference First Round will not change if Sidney Crosby doesn’t play for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“The same pressure is still there,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “We’re down to our last game here and we don’t really have a choice.”

But the Rangers approach likely will be different if the Penguins are without their captain and leading scorer for Game 6 at PPG Paints Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-PT, MSG).

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 after the Rangers avoided elimination with a 5-3 win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, when Crosby sustained an upper-body injury in the second period that has left his status for Game 6 in limbo.

“It might make some of our guys that have to play against him a little more confident, but they’re going to put [Evgeni] Malkin [on the top line] and that’s another great player coming at you,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously, Sid is one of the best players in the world and he’s been for a long time. If he doesn’t play we’re going to play our same game, we’re not going to change. We try to contain him as much as we can when he’s on the ice. If he’s not there it probably helps a little bit, but we can’t change what we’re going to do.”

Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano can change, though. They have been matched up 5-on-5 against Crosby’s line that also features Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust for the entire series and it hasn’t gone well for them.

The Penguins top line has scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) at even strength in the five games, including Guentzel’s series-high seven goals. Meanwhile, Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano have combined for seven points (three goals, four assists) at even strength.

Crosby’s line has outscored Zibanejad’s line 4-1 in head-to-head matchups at even strength. Crosby also won 61.2 percent of his face-offs against Zibanejad in the past three games.

“He’s pretty instrumental on the ice for them, especially in the face-off dot,” Kreider said. “That’s a part of his game where he’s been especially dominant this series.”

But if the Rangers don’t have to worry about Crosby, it’s possible Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano might feel they can reverse some of their fortunes in Game 6.

“Definitely opens things up for them,” Gallant said. “They’re probably thinking a little more offense than a little more defense.”

It’s notable too that the Rangers could have one of their best checking forwards back in the lineup if Tyler Motte is cleared to play.

Motte has been out with an upper-body injury since April 7, but practiced with the team for the first time Thursday and Gallant said there is a chance he could play in Game 6.

“I think so, but I’m not sure,” Gallant said. “He had his first full practice today with us and everything looks good. I’d say he is a game-time decision, but I have to get it cleared from the doctors and trainers. But today was a good first step.”

If Motte can play, that gives the Rangers another forward they can use in a checking role against the Penguins’ top players, both at even strength, particularly on defensive zone face-offs, and on the penalty kill.

That too would help ease some of the burden New York’s top line has been carrying all series.

“Very effective player,” Kreider said of Motte. “He plays with all kinds of speed, all kinds of work ethic. Very good on the penalty kill, blocking shots, a guy whose game is very detailed, skilled, skates very well. … That would be a huge addition to our lineup.”

The Rangers’ mindset, though, is what matters most to them. They lost Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh by a combined 14-6, including 7-2 in Game 4 on Monday, when Gallant called out his team for playing “soft all over the ice.”

That’s forgotten about, he said.

“I don’t put a whole lot into the last time we played them there,” Gallant said. “That’s what I tell my players after each period or after each shift, it’s not what you’ve done before, it’s what you’re going to do tomorrow so look forward to your next shift.”

Or next save for goalie Igor Shesterkin, who was pulled from each game in Pittsburgh, allowing a total of 10 goals on 45 shots in three periods.

Shesterkin was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which is given to the NHL’s most valuable player, on Thursday. He was also named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalie in the regular season, on Tuesday.

He made 29 saves on 32 shots in Game 5.

“We’re 3-2 right now and we’ve got to go win a game in their building,” Gallant said. “You don’t worry about the past. You go in there, you prepare yourself to play.”

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