NEW YORK -- The poise, maturity and confidence that carried the New York Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference in the regular season was on full display in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Ottawa Senators.
With the Senators throwing everything they could at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers did what they did all season -- throw every body part they could in front of any puck coming toward the net. Goals from defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi in the second period stood up as the Rangers won 2-1 to advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2008.
The Rangers took that 2-1 lead to the third and survived a furious onslaught by the Senators. Lundqvist made nine saves in the final 20 minutes, while his teammates formed an impregnable cocoon that blocked seven shots and forced another eight attempts to miss the mark completely.
It's how the Rangers won all season, and it's how they rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to dispatch the eighth-seeded Senators.
"We've been in this situation a lot this year," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "Going into the third period, there's more on the line, but we can't change the way we've played throughout the year, and that's … blocking shots.
"It's playoff hockey at its finest. They are making the last surge, trying to play for their season. We stood in there and blocked some shots. Hank came up with some key saves. It's how we have been playing all year, and we have to continue to do that."
The victory means the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the second round, the third time in four years the two teams will meet in the postseason.
Lundqvist made 26 saves, including two big ones on Milan Michalek in the third period. A breakdown led to a Michalek chance with the Senators shorthanded early in the third period and another one later from the slot, but Lundqvist stopped both shots with his upper body to preserve the one-goal lead.
In a tight series from start to finish, the Rangers outscored the Senators 14-13 over the seven games.
"Over seven games they were the better team and that's the way it is right now," said Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was held to just one goal in the series after leading all blueliners in scoring during the regular season. "It's hard to swallow right now, but at least we gave it our all."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who may have been playing in his final NHL game, scored his team's lone goal. Following the game, the 39-year-old was not prepared to make a decision on his future.
"I'll take some time, obviously, see how I feel physically and mentally after time off, but this year has been unbelievable," Alfredsson said. "I had a lot of fun, and it's been a great group of guys to be a part of. They've kept me upbeat and happy when I'm a grumpy old man at times."
The first 20 minutes of Game 7 were scoreless, but they were hardly uneventful.
Marian Gaborik, whose only goal in the series came in Game 1, had a chance to open the scoring less than three minutes into the contest. He took a pass from Brad Richards on a 2-on-1 rush and one-timed a shot into goaltender Craig Anderson, who once again played well in making 27 saves.
Stu Bickel nearly gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with about six minutes left in the period, but his long shot through a screen hit the outside of the right post.
If not for a play by Girardi during a Senators power play late in the first period, perhaps this game would have had a different outcome.
The Senators were given the game's first power play when Brandon Dubinsky hauled down Jason Spezza with 3:52 remaining. Lundqvist made a save on a long shot by Spezza, but the rebound caromed directly to the stick of Senators defenseman Filip Kuba. With the net wide open, Girardi was able to get his leg on Kuba's shot -- which most certainly would've hit the back of the net.
It was the type of play some of the Rangers discussed in the dressing room before the game and how little things like that can translate into a victory in a Game 7.
"We had some guys talk in the room before the game started, guys who have played in Game 7," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "(Mike Rupp) brought up that point -- a small play being a big play. A blocked shot by Danny there. Those are the little plays are huge in a series. That's the difference. I think we made a couple more than Ottawa in the past couple games. They did prior, and that's why the series goes seven games."
Early in the second period, a defensive play by 20-year-old Chris Kreider led to Staal's goal that made it 1-0.
Senators forward Nick Foligno was looking to make a pass in the neutral zone, but an attacking Kreider slid to the ice to block the pass and take the puck away. Callahan gathered the loose puck and slipped it to Derek Stepan, who hit a cutting Staal on the left side for the game's first goal at 4:46.
Kreider called his wipeout that forced a turnover an "ugly play," but Staal thought it was anything but that.
"Kreider forced a great turnover on the blue line, and I just had a bunch of ice and went forward," Staal said. "Step made a great pass. I wasn't expecting the pass that quick, and I don't think the goalie was either, so I had a bunch of open net to shoot into."
Girardi, Staal's defensive partner the past two seasons before a concussion caused Staal to miss the first half of the season, scored 4:18 later to make it 2-0.
It was another terrific display of passing that led to the goal, with Brandon Dubinsky capping it with a pass to Girardi in the slot. Girardi was able to one-time the puck into the top corner of the net from about 8 feet in front of Anderson to make it 2-0.
Alfredsson made it 2-1 with a power-play goal 2:30 later, beating Lundqvist with a blast from just inside the left circle, but that was as close as the Senators would get.
Not only was this game not in doubt in the mind of Tortorella -- he said he knew his team was going to win the series before the puck dropped on Game 6 in Ottawa.
"I really felt we were going to go into Ottawa and win," Tortorella said. "And I'm not saying that because we did it. I told our guys that have followed our club all year long that this is a good group and they've been resilient all year long. This sets you up for a foundation. Things happen for a reason. We'll lean on this as we get to the next round and it'll work to our advantage."
Don't think Tortorella is resting on his laurels; he's aware the Capitals are just around the corner.
"I'm very happy with the group and they should be real proud of themselves for about an hour," Tortorella said.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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