WASHINGTON - It's been more than a decade since a goalie was as perfect over Games 6 and 7 of a playoff series as Henrik Lundqvist was for the New York Rangers against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Yes, Lundqvist certainly had help, including goals from some unlikely teammates. Still, there is one key reason the Rangers are heading to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Led by Lundqvist's 35 saves in a second consecutive shutout, the Rangers beat the Capitals 5-0 in an anticlimactic finale of an otherwise tense and tight seven-game series Monday night, eliminating Washington for the second year in a row.
"Goaltending is the big thing," said Arron Asham, a fourth-line winger whose goal Monday gave him a pair for the series, twice as many as two-time NHL MVP Ovechkin. "Hank's been our backbone all year."
The last NHL goalie to pull off the double shutouts in Games 6-7 was Detroit's Dominik Hasek in 2002 against Colorado, according to STATS LLC.
"There's moments where you enjoy it and you think 'Wow, this is great.' And you have fun. But there's also moments where you don't feel great. You feel the pressure and you just want to get it done, so badly," Lundqvist said. "You try to control your emotions. That's the key for me. I'm an emotional guy when I play. I try to just stay calm. Good or bad. I just try to stay calm and focus on my thing."
Did that rather well on Sunday and Monday, lifting his career post-season shutout total to eight.
"He was really good, but the team was also good, too. I have to give the team some credit. They played hard in front of him," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Lundqvist, Ovechkin said, did an "unbelievable job; he makes incredible saves."
By winning a Game 7 on the road for the first time in its history, New York completed its comeback after trailing in the series 2-0 and 3-2 — the latest in Washington's long history of playoff collapses.
Now the sixth-seeded Rangers face the No. 4 Bruins, with Game 1 on Thursday at Boston. The Original Six rivals have not met in the playoffs since 1973. New York won that series in five games.
"We'll enjoy this one tonight," Rangers forward Rick Nash said, "and then get back to work."
Nash was held without a goal by Washington, but New York found other scorers.
Asham put New York ahead Monday in the first period, before Taylor Pyatt and Michael Del Zotto made it 3-0 early in the second on goals 2:10 apart. Ryan Callahan added a goal 13 seconds into the third period, and when Mats Zuccarello scored with about 13 1/2 minutes remaining, thousands of red-clad fans streamed to the exits.
Soon after, when Lundqvist fell forward to smother a puck, chants of "Hen-reeek! Hen-reeek!" from the no-longer-outnumbered Rangers supporters rose in the arena.
While Callahan did have 16 goals this season, the other four Rangers who put pucks past Braden Holtby on Monday combined for a total of only 14.
"You need your third and fourth lines to get some goals to win games," Asham said, "and it was proven tonight."
Also made clear: Lundqvist gives the Rangers a chance to win every game. From the moment Mike Ribeiro's overtime goal gave Washington a Game 5 victory, Lundqvist was simply superb.
The Swede stopped all 62 shots he faced in Games 6 and 7, showing exactly why he won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie last season and is a finalist this season.
"In a game like this, obviously you're looking for a great start. I thought we set the tone in the first. You just need a couple of good bounces and we got them tonight. A couple of big goals for us," Lundqvist said. "When we scored the fourth one, I thought, 'OK, we got this.' As long as it's three, you never know with (the Capitals). They have so much skill, they can turn it around quickly."
But Washington's offence managed to score 12 goals the entire series — and zero over the final six periods.
Indeed, Ovechkin was held without a point in Games 3-7. The Russian wing led the NHL with 32 goals but he heads into the off-season after the longest playoff point drought of his career. He had a goal in Game 1, an assist in Game 2, and that was it.
"It's very frustrating," said Ovechkin, never past the second round of the playoffs. "That's the whole point: You're here to win the games and try to win the cup."
The Rangers-Capitals finale began only a little more than 24 hours after the shoving- and wrestling-filled end of Game 6, which New York won 1-0 on Derick Brassard's second-period goal. That, of course, was played at Madison Square Garden, continuing the pattern of the home team winning each of the first six games of the series.
That ended emphatically Monday, in a Game 7 so similar to Washington's 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in 2009, even Ovechkin brought up that defeat afterward.
Another pattern done away with: Games 2-6 between New York and Washington were all decided by one goal.
"Quite honestly, tough to explain," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "It's funny how over the years sometimes the seventh game turns into some form of blowout."
Since the start of the 2008 playoffs — when Washington's core of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green made their post-season debuts — the Capitals have appeared in nine series, and this was the seventh to last the full seven games.
They're now 2-5 in those, and Ovechkin and Co. have never been beyond the second round. Going further back, to 1985, the Capitals have lost nine series in which the club led either 2-0 or 3-1.
"Nobody is yelling at each other here. Nobody was pointing a figure that it was somebody's fault we (lost) the game. It's everybody's fault," Ovechkin said. "All the guys' fault. My fault. (Backstrom's). It's everybody. It's not about one person or two people. It's about the team."
Truthfully, not much anyone on his team could do Sunday or Monday with the way Lundqvist performed.
"We threw the kitchen sink at him at times, and he stood there and defended," Green said. "He's a great goaltender. We knew that."
Notes: The Rangers were 0-5 in Game 7s on the road entering Monday. ... Ovechkin's longest span without a point this regular season was three games, something he went through twice: Feb. 14-21 and March 9-12. The Rangers were the opponent in the middle game of both of those droughts. ... The Rangers lost in the Eastern Conference finals last year to the New Jersey Devils, for whom Oates was an assistant coach.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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