PITTSBURGH — Sitting on the bench after he had hit the crossbar with a shot on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad asked to see a video replay so he could assess whether he made the right move against the goalie.
When Chris Kreider saw what his teammate was looking at, he snatched the iPad out of his hands and flung it to the floor beside the bench. No need to second-guess anything. Zibanejad had already scored two goals to get the Rangers out of a desperate situation. The move he made was good and the shot barely missed. Take that tablet and shove it in the trash.
The unflappable Zibanejad never even looked over at Kreider, and instead just reached forward and sipped from a bottle as they rested between shifts on the ice.
It was the kind of interaction that sometimes exists only between longtime hockey linemates, and on Friday that partnership helped lead the Rangers to a momentous Game 7 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the first Game 7 for the Rangers in seven years.
On Friday, Zibanejad and Kreider each scored twice and Zibanejad added two assists, enabling the Rangers to stave off elimination with a dramatic comeback and a 5-3 win in Game 6.
Sunday’s Game 7 will be the first for the Rangers since they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals, and one of five Games 7s in the N.H.L. this weekend.
“It’s exciting,” said Gerard Gallant, the Rangers coach. “Three days ago, we were down, 3-1, and now we’ve got a chance to go home and win Game 7.”
After the win, Zibanejad and Kreider sat together, like brothers, discussing in a news conference how they had reached that point in the game and the series. Zibanejad had not scored in the first five games and some frustration may have set in. As Gallant says, Zibanejad puts a lot of pressure on himself to produce.
Zibanejad lauded Kreider for his unwavering support on and off the ice, and Kreider returned the favor, praising Zibanejad for continuing to play hard and effectively at both ends of the ice, even when he was not scoring.
“I think the playoffs sometimes can reveal who you are, the kind of character you have,” Kreider said. “For him to stay with his game and continue to work, he’s been a huge, huge leader for us all year. He’s been an absolute horse.”
The Rangers trailed, 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 one-time slap shots within 76 seconds to tie the game.
“There’s no quit,” Zibanejad said of the comeback. “That’s what I love about this team.”
A few minutes later there was another crazy breakaway. The play started when Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers goalie, took advantage of a bad Penguins line change and made a perfect 100-foot stretch pass onto Zibanejad’s stick. Zibanejad was in alone again.
“His passing is sometimes better than all of us,” Zibanejad said of Shesterkin’s stick work.
Penguins goalie Louis Domingue made the initial stop on Zibanejad, but Kreider was right there with his linemate, and he smacked home 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 it would continue, right down to New York’s final empty-net goal at the end.
Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins to even things up, 3-3, on a breakaway late in the second period. The game remained tied until there was only 1:28 left to play. Kreider then unleashed a high slap shot that Domingue saved in front of his chest, but the puck spun up over his head and fell back behind him and into the net.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” said Kris Letang, the Penguins defenseman. “They are a really good team. They have a lot of skilled players that can score goals.”
Igor Shesterkin wasn’t perfect in the 5-3 New York win but he looked more in regular form.Credit…Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
The Penguins will seek to somehow stop the Rangers relentless knack for coming back in Game 7s, but the Rangers go into the final contest with considerable momentum — and with both Zibanejad and Shesterkin back to their best form.
Shesterkin was not only a playmaker on Friday, recording his first playoff assist, he also stopped 31 of the 34 shots in his regular job. His teammates never lost faith.
“He’s been our best player all year,” Kreider said of the Rangers goalie, “and he continues to be our best player.”
Shesterkin demonstrated considerable composure by blocking out the thunderous, taunting “Eee-gor” chants from the Penguins fans. Those had seemed to rattle him in the previous two games in Pittsburgh. But on Friday, he brushed them away like long slap shots.
“It’s very difficult,” he acknowledged. “They try to go to my mind. But I tried to keep focused and when they try to say, ‘Igor,’ I just say, ‘OK.’”
The chanting in Game 7 at M.S.G. will have a much different tone. It is uncertain whether Crosby, who was hit in the head by Jacob Trouba in Game 5, will be available. Crosby has a history of concussions. He skated on Friday morning, but did not play in Game 6.
All that matters now, for both teams, is Sunday night, and who can put the most video highlights on their tablets.
“Game 7s are crazy games, where anything can happen,” said Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson. “It’s up to us to bring our best and see what happens.”