PITTSBURGH — The end of two springs' worth of playoff angst for the Penguins came suddenly, crammed into 14 minutes of pure exhilaration, one highlight-reel sequence piled atop another.
And perhaps it's fitting that Pittsburgh's relentless five-game first-round demolition of the Rangers — completed during a raucous 6-3 win Saturday that ushered New York to an early offseason — wasn't sealed by the familiar faces atop the Penguins' star-laden roster but the pieces brought in to help return Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to their spot among the league's elite.
Conor Sheary. Bryan Rust. Matt Murray. All in their early 20s. All now vital parts of a team that looks every bit a Stanley Cup contender. Pittsburgh faces either the Capitals or Flyers in the conference semifinals.
Rust and Sheary combined for three goals during Pittsburgh's second-period four-goal explosion against uncharacteristically shaky Henrik Lundqvist, and Murray turned away 38 shots as the Penguins exacted a bit of revenge against the Rangers, who knocked them out of the postseason in 2014 and 2015.
"We are obviously all aware of what's happened in the past," said Rust, who had two goals. "There's guys who obviously weren't there. We wanted to fight harder to make sure that didn't happen (again)."
Lundqvist, who stopped just 17 of 23 shots and failed to make it to the third period for the third time in the series.
"The second period, it was feeling of embarrassment to give up that many goals," Lundqvist said. "But also a sense of hopelessness with not being able to come up with the saves."
First—1, NYR, Nash 2 (Girardi, Skjei), 1:02. 2, Pit, Hagelin 1 (Kessel, Bonino), 9:50. 3, NYR, Moore 1 (Fast, M.Staal), 10:35. 4, Pit, Kessel 3 (Crosby, Letang), 11:39 (pp). Penalties—Skjei, NYR (boarding), 10:42; Malkin, Pit (tripping), 12:42; Nash, NYR (slashing), 15:16; Letang, Pit (slashing), 15:16.
Second—5, Pit, Rust 1 (Daley, Cullen), 5:21. 6, Pit, Cullen 2 (Rust, Kuhnhackl), 9:26. 7, Pit, Sheary 2 (Crosby), 16:18. 8, Pit, Rust 2 (Malkin), 19:01. Penalties—Moore, NYR (roughing), 10:26; Sheary, Pit (high-sticking), 14:01.
Third—9, NYR, Kreider 2 (Diaz, Brassard), 5:38 (pp). Penalties—Murray, Pit, served by Kessel (tripping), 4:58. SOG—NYR 14-11-16—41. Pit 11-12-5—28. PPs—NYR 1 of 3; Pit 1 of 2. Goalies—NYR, Lundqvist 1-3-0 (23 shots-17 saves), Raanta (0:00 third, 5-5). Pit, Murray 3-0-0 (41-38).
Blackhawks 6, Blues 3: Down 3-1 after the first period, host Chicago scored five unanswered goals to stave off elimination for a second game in the Western Conference series and force Game 7 on Monday in St. Louis.
Wing Dale Weise, a late February trade pickup from the Canadiens, scored the winner for the defending Stanley Cup champions at 16:18 of the second. Chicago's Andrew Shaw added a third-period goal in his return from a one-game suspension for using a homophobic slur directed at on-ice officials in Game 4.
"I thought we had our best game of the series," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Scottie Upshall scored for St. Louis, which lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
"(The Blackhawks) raised the bar," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock. "Now it's our turn to answer."
Ducks 5, Predators 2: Ryan Garbutt scored the go-ahead goal in the second period for the Ducks, who got the first win by a home team in the Western Conference series to take a 3-2 lead. "Those first two games we lost at home were rock bottom for us," Garbutt said. "We definitely want to finish it off in six."
First—None. Penalties—Sissons, Nas (interference), 1:59; Nas bench, served by Johansen (too many men), 7:13; Weber, Nas (cross-checking), 19:39; Perry, Ana (goaltender interference), 19:46.
Second—1, Nas, Johansen 1 (Wilson), 14:13. 2, Ana, Perron 1, 14:35. 3, Ana, Garbutt 1 (Getzlaf, Perron), 16:23. Penalties—Neal, Nas (interference), 11:27; Neal, Nas (elbowing), 20:00.
Third—4, Ana, Vatanen 1 (Silfverberg), 8:34. 5, Nas, Salomaki 1 (Weber, Ribeiro), 13:29. 6, Ana, Fowler 1 (Vatanen, Perry), 16:37 (pp). 7, Ana, Kesler 2 (Getzlaf, Silfverberg), 18:14 (en). Penalties—Vatanen, Ana (hooking), 6:27; Horcoff, Ana (interference), 8:59; Ribeiro, Nas (slashing), 16:26; Jackman, Nas (roughing), 19:15. SOG—Nas 13-7-9—29. Ana 12-8-12—32. PPs—Nas 0 of 3; Ana 1 of 7. Goalies—Nas, Rinne 2-3-0 (31 shots-27 saves). Ana, Andersen 3-0-0 (29-27).
Sharks take out Kings: After visiting San Jose blew a 3-0 lead, rookie wing Joonas Donskoi broke a tie with his second goal early in the third, and the Sharks charged back to wrap up their Western Conference series with a 6-3 victory in Game 5 late Friday.
VINNY DONE? With the Kings eliminated, Friday's game might have been the last in the career of Vinny Lecavalier, the former Lightning captain and member of the 2004 Stanley Cup winner, who has said he will retire this summer. Lecavalier, who turned 36 Thursday, was largely outstanding after a midseason trade from the Flyers, leading to speculation he might consider returning for an 18th season. Lecavalier declined to comment on his future after the game.