PITTSBURGH — Jacob Trouba seems to know what’s in store for him when he steps on the ice in Pittsburgh with the Rangers facing elimination again in Game 6 on Friday night.
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After laying one of his heavy Trouba-train hits on Penguins darling Sidney Crosby, who knocked the star center out for the final 26 minutes, 50 seconds of the Rangers’ 5-3 win in Game 5 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the veteran defenseman sounded prepared for the fury he’s surely about to face from the Penguins and the PPG Paints Arena crowd.
“It’s OK,” he said with a slight smile. “It won’t be the first time.”
Crosby, who has been an unstoppable force that has impacted this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series more than any other Ranger or Penguin, suffered an upper-body injury from the collision with Trouba and was to be evaluated when he arrived back in Pittsburgh later on Thursday, according to Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
It’s unclear if Crosby will play in Game 6. However, there’s no doubt that the Penguins will have some extra bite to their game Friday given what happened to their best player, which also played a part in them blowing a 2-0 lead that would ‘ve clinched the series Wednesday if not for the Rangers’ rally.
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“Did you see the hit?” Sullivan quipped Wednesday night when asked of his opinion of Trouba’s hit. “You probably have the same opinion I do.”
If you thought star goalie Igor Shesterkin took a verbal beating from the Pittsburgh crowd in Games 3 and 4, Trouba will probably get it even worse. Trouba said he was aiming for stick-on-puck contact, but his stick went between Crosby’s legs and hit his thigh, which got the two players entangled and led to the defenseman’s arm popping up and bashing No. 87 in the face.
“Obviously, you don’t want to ever see a guy get hurt,” said Trouba, who will not face any discipline from the NHL for the hit. “I don’t know exactly what the injury is, but hopefully he’s better soon.”
Added head coach Gerard Gallant of what he saw on the play: “As great a player as Sid is, he does a lot of twisting and turning and spinning away from guys. Troubs went to play the puck and his elbow got up a little high on him. There was no intent. He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, wasn’t running people through the glass, that’s for sure.”
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Chris Kreider said the Rangers have to just worry about the game and not the anticipated hostility from the crowd and the Penguins. While their mantra has been to control what they can control, if Crosby is unable to play on Friday, the Rangers are looking at a whole different playing field.
The Rangers’ top line of Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano have been so preoccupied with containing Crosby and linemates Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, it has restricted that unit, especially Zibanejad, from having much of an impact on any of the first five games .
“He’s an unbelievable player and a massive part of his team,” Kreider said of Crosby, who has two goals and seven assists in this series. “He’s pretty instrumental all over the ice for them, especially on the faceoff dot. It feels like a part of his game where he’s been especially dominant this series.”
Gallant acknowledged that, without Crosby, the Rangers’ top line will likely be able to think more offensively rather than defensively. That would be incredibly beneficial for the Rangers, who have mostly relied on their middle six for scoring.
Crosby, or no Crosby, the Rangers still have to beat the Penguins two more times to get out of Round 1.
The Blueshirts have rallied from a 3-1 playoff series deficit only twice in franchise history, in 2014 against the Penguins and in 2015 against the Capitals. Kreider is the only holdover from the Rangers rosters during those two runs.
Asked what he remembers about those teams and what it took to complete the comebacks, Kreider was quick with his response.
“Belief in the room, belief in each other,” Kreider said. “Commitment to playing as a group and understanding that we have to do it as a team, not as individuals. Doing everything we can as a team to stay in the moment and take it one shift at a time, regardless of what’s going on in the game.”