NEW YORK -- One game for all the marbles. If you were choosing up sides for a dream Game 7, you'd have to figure that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would be your top two picks in a winner-take-all game.
But somehow, these pesky Rangers have owned Game 7 the past few post-seasons. Now that they've clawed their way to another one in a series that looked as if they had no business being in after Game 4, you might just rather have Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle and, of course, Henrik Lundqvist instead of Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the high-flying Pens.
Sunday night's Game 6 looked an awful lot like Game 5, albeit with more stick work from Pittsburgh and the NHL's best player. Crosby whacked Lundqvist near the end of the second period, then jabbed his stick into a very uncomfortable spot on Dominic Moore to spark a scrum at the second-period horn.
Crosby wasn't done. He did it again to Brian Boyle in the final seconds of the third period.
It's not the sort of stick work the Penguins want from Crosby. It's just the sort of behavior the Rangers want from Crosby, who seemed to be back on track with a big Game 3 goal but has now been more concerned with post-whistle business than the business of being the best player on the ice.
That's just one reason the Rangers should be feeling very, very good about heading back to Pittsburgh for Tuesday's Game 7.
There are others, starting with another emotional lift from Martin St. Louis, who played with a real fire on Mother's Day, just three days after losing his own mother. Rick Nash was booed in the Garden just four days earlier, but Sunday night, the Garden crowd was cheering for Nash as he frustrated Malkin with some good defence.
Yes, the faithful were cheering for backchecking and effort and penalty killing. The fans want the highlight goals, as well, but they seemed to understand that these Rangers make things happen only when they scratch and claw and grind.
There wasn't a pretty play among their goals in Game 6, unless you count Derick Brassard's hacky-sack play to get the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net in the second.
There was only effort and will, two things that have carried the Rangers in their last four Games 7 in the past three playoffs. They took down the Senators and Caps in 2012, the Caps again in Washington in 2013 and the Flyers just 12 days ago, four straight Game 7 wins that fueled this team's rep as one that plays its best when everything is on the line.
The Penguins haven't played many Games 7, their high-end talent giving them either the leeway to finish teams off quickly or be the ones finished off in a haze of frustration.
During the Crosby era, the Penguins have played two Games 7 at home, in the second round in 2010 and in the first round in 2011. They lost both, one to the Canadiens after a 3-2 series lead and one to the Lightning after a 3-1 series lead.
Perhaps those games are too long ago to matter. But the main Penguins cast is still intact from those losses. The Rangers have swapped in Alain Vigneault behind the bench for John Tortorella, the ultimate junkyard dog, but Lundqvist and Dan Girardi and Marc Staal still know how about dogfights for the right to move on.
The Penguins are a great, great team. The Rangers are Game 7-tested and Game 7-approved.
It's one game. Even without the stars, this doesn't seem like a good time to bet against the Rangers.