NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers didn't really lean on Henrik Lundqvist to win a game for them at any point through the first six of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But when the Rangers needed their goaltender in the final period of the final game, Lundqvist showed why he's considered one of the best in the NHL.
Lundqvist stopped 10 of 11 shots in the third period, made 26 saves total, and the Rangers defeated the Flyers 2-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday.
The Rangers are 6-0 at Madison Square Garden in Game 7. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 in the opening round for three straight years. The Rangers beat the Washington Capitals in 2013 and the Ottawa Senators in 2012.
Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Rangers, who advance to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series will open Friday night in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Rangers split four games against the Penguins in the regular season, winning once in Pittsburgh and once in New York.
"They're a good team," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of the Penguins. "They got some skill, some of the best players in the League."
Thanks to Lundqvist, that was all Philadelphia could get.
"He's the backbone of our team for a reason," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He made some huge saves down the stretch. We know what he means to this team, and he knows what he means. When he's on his game he's tough to beat. When they had some time in our zone he was the backbone back there. He relaxed everybody with some big saves."
The other Rangers might have been feeling comfortable in the third period, but their goaltender wasn't. With the season at stake, Lundqvist said his emotions were a mix of nerves and excitement.
"When they scored that goal I knew it was going to be an intense game," Lundqvist said. "They got some confidence and they kept coming pretty hard. It was nerve-wracking but it was exciting."
Lundqvist is 4-1 in Game 7s. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 1.00 goals-against average is tied with Johnny Bower and Dwayne Roloson for the best GAA in Game 7 (minimum three).
Lundqvist was pulled from Game 6 on Tuesday after allowing four goals in a 5-2 loss at Wells Fargo Center.
"To get an opportunity to play a Game 7 at home is very special," Lundqvist said. "That's the way I looked at it going into this game. I was extremely disappointed [after Game 6] but at the same time I was excited about playing this game. It's a great feeling right now."
The Rangers were strong defensively in the third period, and Lundqvist was there to stop just about everything that slipped through.
"We played real well in front of him," Vigneault said. "We all knew at some point they'd have a push and he'd have to make the saves also and he did for us. He was real solid. We had a couple breakdowns around our net and he made some real big saves."
Carcillo opened the scoring at 3:06 of the second period. Mats Zuccarello got the puck down low on the right side of the Philadelphia zone. He twisted away from Flyers forward Sean Couturier and made a backhand pass through the crease past two Philadelphia defenders to Carcillo, who one-timed it past goalie Steve Mason for his second of the postseason.
"[Zuccarello] made a backhand pass off the wall, spin-o-rama between two guys' legs and right on my tape," Carcillo said.
Carcillo was a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6, but Vigneault opted for him ahead of J.T. Miller because of his experience. Wednesday was Carcillo's 40th playoff game; he played four for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last season.
"Everybody wants to play," Carcillo said. "You never get used to sitting out. It stings [but] you have to be ready. Just glad I got the opportunity and even happier I was able to help the team move on."
Pouliot made it 2-0 at 11:46 of the second when he scored his second of the playoffs. Anton Stralman dumped the puck into the right corner in the Philadelphia end. Derick Brassard got it, spotted Pouliot stepping away from coverage in the middle by Couturier and found him with a quick pass that Pouliot one-timed past Mason.
The Rangers had other chances in the second when they outshot the Flyers 18-5, but Mason again was Philadelphia's top player. He was at his best when he defused a 3-on-1 New York rush. He did the splits to get his left pad on a shot by Martin St. Louis from the right side then got across to stop McDonagh on the post on the left side with 12:20 left in second.
Mason finished with 31 saves.
"[Mason] stood on his head out there and I really thought we had it," Akeson said. "We couldn't get the puck in the net in the end."
The Flyers' best chance of the second period came with four minutes left when Jakub Voracek set up Claude Giroux right in front of Lundqvist, but Giroux's shot went over the net. Philadelphia managed one shot on each of its two second-period power plays.
The Flyers pushed harder in the third but came up empty.
"We didn't play good enough in the second period to win that game," Voracek said. "It's too bad we couldn't get that one. They had chances and buried two goals in the second and we got the goal in the third and we had a good push but it was too late."
The Rangers don't have much time to celebrate their victory; they travel to Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"I think everybody has a good sense of accomplishment," McDonagh said. "We know there's a long road. We're trying to accomplish something bigger than one series win. We feel good about ourselves [but] we don't have a lot of time to get ready. I think everybody's looking forward to that [next] series."
|Daniel Carcillo (2) Wrist shot - ASST: Mats Zuccarello (2), Kevin Klein (1)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Benoit Pouliot (2) Slapshot - ASST: Derick Brassard (2), Anton Stralman (2)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Jason Akeson (2) Slapshot - ASST: Braydon Coburn (3), Matt Read (2)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Zac Rinaldo Interference against Brad Richards|
|Daniel Carcillo Too many men/ice - bench|
|Benoit Pouliot Interference on goalkeeper against Steve Mason|