|(Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)|
The Rangers are headed to their first conference finals appearance since 1997.
The New York Rangers will advance to their first Eastern Conference finals appearance in 15 years after defeating the Washington Capitals in a Game 7 thriller.
The 2-1 victory was their second Game 7 victory of the postseason, after defeating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in the first round. Now, the Rangers will face off against their cross-Hudson rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers knew they needed to score first if they wanted to beat the Capitals. The Rangers' three wins leading up to Game 7 all came when scoring first, while the Capitals' three wins came when they scored first.
The offensively challenged Rangers turned it around in Game 7, scoring just a minute and a half into the game. Rookie Carl Hagelin chased down the puck behind the net, and found Brad Richards for a one-timer. Richards' goal was his sixth of the postseason.
The Rangers dominated play in the first period, but Capitals goalie Braden Holtby wasn't letting anything else by him.
The Capitals came out strong in the second period, but couldn't catch a break. Vezina nominee Henrik Lundqvist denied everything that came his way. Washington got its best chance of the game at the nine minute mark of the second period when the Rangers were unable to get a line switch. For about three minutes, the Capitals' top line was drilling shots at the goal, but none of them got by Lundqvist.
After a scoreless second period, New York went back on the attack and outshot Washington 11-4 in the final period. With about ten minutes to play, defensemen Michael Del Zotto gave the Rangers a two-goal lead. Del Zotto received a crisp pass from forward Marian Gaborik, and sniped the puck past goalie Braden Holtby.
New York's two goal lead would be brief though, with the Capitals responding just a mere 38 seconds later. With Lundqvist screened in front of the net, Roman Hamrlik was able to get the puck past the all-star goalie.
The Rangers' defense wouldn't slip for the rest of the game though. Despite just a few minutes left in their season, the Capitals were unable to get the puck out of their zone. Washington's defensive struggles didn't allow them to pull Holtby until a minute left to play. The extra attacker didn't help though, as the Rangers continued to keep the puck in Washington's zone. With just seconds left, the Capitals were unable to get a shot off, giving the Rangers the win.
Henrik Lundqvist raised his arms in joy. He knew just as well as anyone else in the building that he played an MVP-like game. He finished the game with 22 saves.
While Henk played a stellar game, it was Richards who got the Rangers going early on. Richards' goal gave the Rangers the momentum boost they needed after losing it all following a Game 6 loss.
The puck drops against the Devils Monday night for Game 1. The Rangers defeated the Devils four times this season, with the Devils defeating the Rangers just once. The Rangers know they have the Devils' number, but they can't get too confident.
The Rangers will need more offense if they want to make their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1994. While the first line has been productive, the Rangers need more offense from Callahan, Boyle, Anisimov, and Stepan, who have all slouched lately. Brandon Dubinsky will also look to return to the ice after being a scratch the past few games.
The New Jersey Devils are playing the best hockey of their season. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur shut down the redhot Flyers in five games. Offensively, the Devils have had no problem, as they averaged nearly four goals a game last series. Lundqvist is a much better goalie than Bryzgalov, but the Rangers' defense is up for a tough task.
It will come down to the Rangers' forwards though if they want to get by the Devils. Even with Lundqvist in net, the Rangers need to play aggressive hockey if they want to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.