NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis opened the scoring 3:34 into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins when the puck skipped off his right leg and past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The moment couldn't have been scripted any better.
The play took place on Mother's Day, three days after St. Louis' mother, France, died suddenly. With his father, Normand, and sister, Isabelle, in attendance at Madison Square Garden, St. Louis celebrated the game's first goal by rushing toward the right corner in an unbridled show of passion.
It was a special moment for a special player.
"The whole organization, the boys, everybody has been so supportive and really playing their hearts out," St. Louis said. "I think the boys are happy for me, no doubt. We just kept rolling in the first period. We were playing with a lot of emotion."
Thanks in part to that goal and the early emotional lift it provided, a motivated Rangers team won 3-1 to tie the best-of-7 series at 3-3, forcing Game 7 on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
When the final horn sounded, St. Louis was named the game's first star and came out to salute the MSG crowd that had been chanting his name throughout the game.
A number of Rangers contributed in the must-win game. But the night ultimately belonged to St. Louis, who upon learning the news of his mother's death rushed back to Montreal on Thursday to be with his family before returning to play Game 5 in Pittsburgh. Playing with a heavy heart, the veteran forward didn't get on the score sheet Friday, but the Rangers won to keep the series going.
When he opened the scoring in Game 6, the fans at MSG erupted in one of their loudest ovations of the season.
St. Louis' teammates were still processing what they had witnessed well after the game had ended.
"It's probably one of the cooler things I've been a part of in my professional career," said forward Derek Stepan, who earned the primary assist on the goal. "The emotion on that goal, it's something I won't forget."
The palpable energy St. Louis provided wasn't restricted to the players on the ice. New York's bench exploded as St. Louis celebrated his memorable moment. It all set a perfect tone for a team playing with its season on the line.
"When he scored the first goal, I can't even describe the atmosphere on our bench," Rangers forward Derick Brassard said. "We're trying to win a game, but at the same time he scored a big goal, and we all know how important it is for him. I'm just happy for him."
"I can imagine that felt pretty good. We were obviously extremely happy for him. It was a great night for him," New York defenseman Marc Staal said. "He shows up to the rink in Pittsburgh [for Game 5] and he's ready to go. That was inspirational for everyone in the room. He comes out today and scores a huge goal, the crowd is chanting his name; it doesn't get much better than that. It was pretty remarkable."
"I've had some good moments," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "But I thought that one there, considering today was Mother's Day, was extra special for our team."
Always intense on and off the ice, St. Louis was still grieving after Game 6. But scoring a huge goal on Mother's Day with his family in the stands is as fitting a tribute as he's likely to pay to his late mother. And he knows exactly what he'll do with the puck, which he grabbed after opening the scoring.
"I'll give it to my dad. It's a puck that has got significance for everybody that has been supportive of me and my family," St. Louis said.
With the series deadlocked after an intense home victory, St. Louis made a point to share one more moment with his family.
"I looked up to them after the game," he said. "They deserve a lot of credit for where I've been, where I've gone, where I am today. I couldn't be happier for them to be here on a special day through a pretty tough time."
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