The Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series was tilted heavily in the Washington Capitals' favor after Game 2. The New York Rangers had one goal in 128 minutes and were trailing 2-0 when they returned home for Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden.
"I just didn't think we were that far off," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I think a number of people thought down 2-0, you're not going to get this done."
Tortorella was right. Everyone who doubted the Rangers was dead wrong.
They won Games 3, 4 and 6 at Madison Square Garden. They went into Verizon Center for Game 7 and sent the home crowd to the exits early with a 5-0 romp.
Goalie - NYR
GAA: 1.65 | SVP: 0.947
How did the Rangers get it done against the Capitals to advance to the conference semifinals? Here are five reasons:
1. King Henrik
There wouldn't have been a Game 7 without Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant in the Rangers' first elimination game with 27 saves in a 1-0 win. Sure, the Rangers likely still would have won Game 7 considering they scored five goals, but Lundqvist was brilliant, especially in the first period, to crush the will of the Capitals.
Lundqvist enters the conference semifinals riding a shutout streak of 120 minutes, including 62 straight saves. The last goal he allowed was Mike Ribeiro's overtime winner in Game 5 -- and that was the second goal he allowed in that game.
Lundqvist finished the series against Washington with two shutouts, a 1.65 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who was held off the score sheet for the last five games of the series, gave Lundqvist credit for being the difference.
"I think it was just one guy out there," Ovechkin said. "Of course they played really well against my line, but Lundqvist did an unbelievable job."
2. Great against 8
Ovechkin gave the credit to Lundqvist, but by saying "they," he is talking about Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers' top defense pair that saw more and heard more about Ovechkin then they did anyone else in this series.
Ovechkin did not have a point in the final five games. He finished with one goal and one assist, taking some of the shine off his incredible second-half surge that saw him score 22 goals over the last 21 regular-season games to help Washington win the Southeast Division.
Ovechkin had a goal in Game 1 and an assist on Mike Green's overtime winner in Game 2, but that was it despite 30 shots on goal and several quality chances. His most memorable play of Game 7 was when he crushed McDonagh in the corner, but the Rangers blueliner got up and continued to play -- and win battles -- against Ovechkin.
"Danny and [McDonagh] got banged around a little bit, but they made the plays," Tortorella said. "That's how it's going to be. [The Bruins' Milan] Lucic is going to be coming after them in Boston; a number of people are going to be coming after them. That's the way you have to play: take hits to make plays. Hopefully we can find our way."
3. Taking Washington's power away
It took the Rangers 34 seconds in Game 1 to do exactly what they knew they couldn't do against the Capitals. They were guilty of a penalty for too many men on the ice and Washington's dangerous power play, which was the best in the League in the regular season at 26.8 percent, was on the ice.
The Rangers actually gave Washington seven power plays during the first two games -- both losses. They put their Game 3 win in jeopardy when Brad Richards took a slashing minor with 1:54 left in the third period.
But the Rangers killed that penalty, 90 seconds of which included 6-on-4 play with Capitals goalie Braden Holtby pulled for an extra skater, and soon after they discovered that staying disciplined and out of the penalty box can do more good than harm against the Capitals.
During the last five games, the Rangers gave Washington nine power plays, including zero in Game 6 and two in Game 7.
Washington's power play scored three times on 16 chances, but by the end of the series it basically was a non-factor because the Rangers would not let it beat them.
"They kept our most dangerous weapon off the ice," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said after Game 6.
4. Grinding them down
Rick Nash didn't score a goal. Ryan Callahan had none until the third period of Game 7. Richards was demoted to the fourth line. And the Rangers found a way to get by because they received more than just physicality and a forecheck from their third- and fourth-line forwards.
Brian Boyle scored two goals and had an assist centering arguably the Rangers' best line in the last two games. Boyle, in fact, arguably was the Rangers' best forward for long stretches. Derek Dorsett was on his right and Taylor Pyatt was on his left. They teamed up on a goal in Game 7.
Arron Asham scored two goals, including the tone-setting and eventual game-winner in Game 7.
Girardi and Michael Del Zotto had goals, and Steve Eminger picked up a pair of assists in Game 7 to give the Rangers some offense from the blue line.
They didn't need a lot of offense to get by because of how good Lundqvist was, but the Rangers got it from unlikely sources, and teams typically win when that happens.
5. Brass tax
Derick Brassard started to feel his way into his first Stanley Cup Playoff series in Game 2. He started to produce in Game 3. He never stopped.
Center - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 9
SOG: 11 | +/-: 4
Brassard, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline in the deal that sent Marian Gaborik
to the Columbus Blue Jackets
, finished with a series-high nine points on two goals and seven assists -- all compiled over the final five games.
He was the Rangers' most effective center and someone who helped them at least get some good looks on the power play. He's the player Tortorella said he feels, at least for now, can work best with Nash. Even more than that, Tortorella said he feels there is no situation, save for the penalty kill, in which he can't use Brassard.
Brassard got the Rangers going in Game 3 with a goal and two assists. He added two assists in Game 4, an assist in Game 5, a goal and an assist in Game 6, then two assists in Game 7.
As good as Lundqvist was, the Rangers needed someone to kick-start their offense to at least give him something to work with. Brassard was that player.