The Power Rangers finally returned Friday night, and just in the nick of time. After an abysmal 0-for-their-past-36 power plays, the Rangers scored twice with the man advantage and dispatched the Penguins with ease, 5-1, at Consol Energy Center to force Game 6.
Rangers winger Chris Kreider beat Marc-Andre Fleury from a tight angle at the 9:36 mark of the first period to snap the power-play drought -- the second-longest in the NHL this season to the Florida Panthers' scoreless streak of 43 power plays.
"It's always better to play with the lead," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said afterward, and this was the Rang0ers' first lead since Game 1.
In a series where the first team to score has never trailed nor lost, the Rangers struck first and went on to match their goal total (five) from the previous four games combined.
"The difference tonight was we moved out feet and played for a full 60" minutes, Rangers winger Derick Brassard said. "The only thing we wanted was to get back to our building, and we accomplished that."
Brassard crashed back onto center stage with two goals, including the winner, and an assist. He won Game 1, too, scoring three minutes into overtime to stake New York to an early series lead.
And then, for a week, nothing. Three games, three losses, and Brassard, the sixth overall selection in the 2006 NHL draft, had only four combined shots and a -3 plus/minus to show.
Brassard had just one goal and two assists in the Rangers first 11 games this postseason, but he found his feet again with the Rangers on the brink of elimination.
"We're desperate right now," Brassard said. "Our backs are against the wall, so it's a lot easier on us [because] the hardest game to win is the fourth one."
The Rangers' power play ticked along at 18.1 percent during the regular season, right smack in the middle (15th) of the NHL rankings. Brassard led the team with seven power-play goals, and Kreider added six.
Kreider returned to the ice for Game 4 Wednesday after missing 19 games to a fractured left hand, and he broke through with a goal and an assist Friday. His first-period goal was the first sign that the Rangers had perhaps exorcised the playoff demons that had haunted them in the previous three games of the series.
"There was a lot of weight on our shoulders that dropped when Chris scored that goal," Brassard said with a smile. "That was a big relief."
Brassard scored six minutes later to push the lead to 2-0 late in the first period, but he would admit the Penguins "were all over us." When Evgeni Malkin tip-toed through the Rangers defense and netted a brilliant goal early in the second period, momentum swung toward the Penguins and their raucous hometown crowd.
But Brassard and defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored 50 seconds apart, the second goal on the power play, to squash any premonitions of a Penguins comeback.
After 36 consecutive futile power-play opportunities, the Rangers had scored on two in a row. They later failed to score on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
"I think we've actually been doing some things well on the power play, and it's hard when you see that looming statistic," Kreider said. "But it's nice when you finally get one. You can finally point to that stuff adding up to tangible success."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.