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Five reasons Rangers advanced to Eastern Final

by David Satriano /

The New York Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season with a 2-1 overtime win against the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, overcoming a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-7 second-round series for the second consecutive season. Last season they rallied against the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

New York is 7-0 at home in Game 7 and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final. Game 1 is Saturday at MSG (1 p.m., NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Here are five reasons the Rangers advanced:

1. Henrik Lundqvist -- After the Rangers lost Game 4 to go down 3-1 in the series, Lundqvist allowed five goals on 110 shots (.954 save percentage) in the final three games. Since 2012, in elimination games, Lundqvist is 14-3 with a 1.39 goals-against average, .956 save percentage and two shutouts.

There were questions about how Lundqvist would perform in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after he missed 25 games in February and March because of a vascular injury in his neck. He's allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of 12 games and won three straight games against the Capitals with the Rangers facing elimination.

"For me personally it was a great challenge to try and match [Capitals goalie Braden Holtby] and keep the team in the game when we needed to," Lundqvist said Wednesday. "It's fun when you feel like you're doing your part."

2. Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast -- Kreider scored four goals in the series, including three in the final three games. None was bigger than his goal with 1:41 remaining in the third period in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, which sent the game to overtime. Kreider also scored 40 seconds into Game 6 at Verizon Center and with less than a second left in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Kreider had one goal in five games in the first round against the Penguins, but after Lundqvist he was the best Rangers player in the series.

Fast was put on a line with Kreider early in Game 2 and made an impact, assisting on Kreider's goal 38 seconds into the game. Fast had one goal and three assists against the Capitals and made an impact on the winning goal in Game 7. Defensemen Keith Yandle and Dan Girardi each got an assist on Derek Stepan's winner, but it was Fast who got the play started by poking a loose puck off the faceoff to Yandle.

"Jesper makes a big-time play and it goes unnoticed, but it's a huge play by him," Stepan said after Game 7.

3. Containing Alex Ovechkin --

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 9
SOG: 61 | +/-: -3
Ovechkin, the NHL's leading goal-scorer in the regular season with 53, including 25 on the power play, had three goals in the series, one on the power play. He had one point in the final five games of the series, a goal in Game 7. As the series went on, the Rangers' top defense pairing of Girardi and Ryan McDonagh did an excellent job containing Ovechkin.

Girardi played 25:19 in Game 7 and McDonagh played a Rangers-high 29:02.

"[McDonagh] played outstanding," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Big, big minutes against a world-class player. Obviously he got beaten on the goal [in Game 7], but other than that he played tremendously."

4. Penalty killing -- The Capitals had the best power play during the regular season at 25.3 percent, but they couldn't get it going against the Rangers. The Rangers killed 14 of 15 Capitals power plays in the series and didn't allow a power-play goal after Ovechkin scored on the first shot of the first power play in Game 1.

New York blocked numerous shots, and anything that came Lundqvist's way was stopped. Ovechkin didn't get as many clean looks as he usually does on the man-advantage.

5. Resiliency -- The Rangers never lost confidence despite trailing 3-1 in the series. They were less than two minutes from being eliminated in Game 5 but won in overtime.

"It starts with confidence and believing that you can do it, and take one game at a time and we did a great job of that," Lundqvist said.

The Rangers' past 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games have been decided by one goal, including 12 this season, and they are 8-1 since last season in elimination games.

"I think our guys just stay in the moment, in the present, focus on what needs to be done and they go out there and play and have fun doing it," Vigneault said.


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