The Rangers-Penguins series may have turned due to an elbow. For sure, Game 5 did.
The Rangers’ season seemed all but over deep into the second period Wednesday night, and then Sidney Crosby left the ice a few minutes after he took a Jacob Trouba elbow to the head. Without the services of their superstar center, the Penguins suddenly lost their edge, and the Blueshirts found theirs.
Three goals in the span of 2:42 followed, and though the Penguins did pull even late in the second period, the Rangers were the better team over the final 20 minutes and forced a Game 6 with a come-from-behind, 5-3 victory at the Garden.
Trouba connected with an elbow to Crosby’s head as both were going after the puck at 9:15 of the second period. Crosby went down, then skated to the bench. With 6:50 left, he left the ice and didn’t come back. Multiple Penguins said they didn’t get a good enough look at the elbow Trouba landed to comment on it. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan didn’t directly call it dirty, but suggested it was not aboveboard.
“Did you see the hit?” Sullivan said, when asked by a reporter. “You probably have the same opinion I do.”
Crosby had led the Penguins to a 3-1 series lead by notching nine points in the first four games, but after the injury, his status for Game 6 on Friday in Pittsburgh is uncertain. Sullivan only said Crosby was being evaluated after the game for an upper-body injury.
Sullivan and his players didn’t use Crosby’s absence as an excuse, and didn’t feel his injury contributed to the Rangers’ comeback. They pointed to loose play in their own end that gave the desperate Rangers quality scoring chances they hadn’t gotten for most of the series.
“We’ve got an experienced group. We have to continue playing the game. We didn’t win the wall battles, we didn’t get pucks out, and as a result we had four or five minutes of extended defensive zone play,” Sullivan said. “We just simply have to do a better job there.”
That loose play didn’t happen when Crosby was in the game. Coincidence or not, Game 5 turned when Crosby suffered his injury. The series may have changed as well.