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Five reasons why the Rangers advanced

by Dan Rosen

This time, the picture did tell the entire story.

After knocking off the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and clinching a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, New York Rangers alternate captains Brad Richards, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were summoned to greet NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and the Prince of Wales Trophy late Thursday.

The Rangers traded captain Ryan Callahan in early March. They don't have anybody who wears the "C" now, so they didn't have one person to adhere to the tradition of accepting the trophy from Daly.

The alternates were called up instead. They didn't go alone.

Richards waved to the rest of the Rangers, imploring them to join the party, and every player made the pilgrimage to Daly and the trophy. It was a fitting end to an emotionally charged series, and a sign of what the Rangers will need to win the Stanley Cup against either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

The Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years because they came together as a team midway through the regular season and have played as one in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Never was that more evident than in Game 6 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, when they put together their most impressive defensive performance of the playoffs and made a goal from their fourth line stand up as the winner in a 1-0 victory.

It wasn't easy, not even against Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski, a third-stringer at the start of the series who is now a household name throughout Quebec and beyond. It wasn't easy against a resilient Canadiens team which came home down 3-1 in the series and ripped off a 7-4 win in Game 5.

The Rangers did it in spite of injuries to centers Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan. They did it using four lines, three defense pairs and a world-class goaltender on most nights.

Even in that team framework, there were some performances that eclipsed all others. Here are five reasons the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final:

1. King of Kings

One save doesn't define a series for any goalie, let alone one as important to his team as Henrik Lundqvist is to the Rangers. But Lundqvist's acrobatic blocker save on Thomas Vanek in the second period of Game 6 is one of the key reasons the Rangers aren't in Montreal right now preparing for Game 7.

It was brilliant and breathtaking. It was a game-changer. It featured Lundqvist, looking slightly askew, tossing his stick, cartwheeling his legs and throwing up his blocker so the puck could connect with it after deflecting off the stick of defenseman Dan Girardi.

It was easily the save of the series, and the most important save of Lundqvist's NHL career considering the score at the time (0-0) and the stakes.

Dominic Moore scored off a pass from Brian Boyle less than three minutes later. Lundqvist made it hold up.

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 12-7
GAA: 2.03 | SVP: 0.928
On a night when the Rangers had a dominant defensive effort with 18 shots on goal allowed, Lundqvist didn't look like he'd have to be the difference-maker, yet he was.

He was also the difference in Game 2, albeit in a much busier effort that which featured Lundqvist turning aside 40 of 41 shots for a 3-1 win that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the series. He made 27 saves in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4.

Lundqvist posted a .922 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average against Montreal, numbers made worse only because of his one off night when he allowed four goals on 19 shots in less than 30 minutes of action in Game 5, a 7-4 loss.

2. Killing 'em off

Relying on your the penalty kill to win you a game is not usually the best recipe for success at any time of the year. The Rangers didn't give themselves a choice in Game 4 with nine penalties, including seven in the offensive zone, but it worked.

Montreal scored on one of its eight power plays, but the Rangers got a shorthanded breakaway goal from Carl Hagelin to wipe it away.

On a night when they couldn't control their sticks and lost their discipline, the Rangers won 3-2 in overtime because of their penalty kill, which gave up only eight shots on goal on those eight Montreal power plays.

For the series, the Rangers were 21-for-23 with 32 shots against on the PK. They were 9-for-9 through Game 3. They rediscovered their discipline in Game 6 and gave Montreal only two power-play opportunities. The Canadiens mustered two shots on goal.

3. Beanpot Connection

Moore (Harvard) and Boyle (Boston College) are two of the more unheralded and underrated players on the Rangers. They also were two of New York's most consistent forwards throughout the series.

Brian Boyle
Center - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 23 | +/-: -3
Moore and Boyle connected on the series-clinching goal at 18:07 of the second period in Game 6, but they did so much more to become difference-makers in the series.

Brassard went down with an upper-body injury barely three minutes into Game 1. Moore filled in and had picture-perfect assists on the Rangers first two goals in their 7-2 win.

Moore showed his versatility by playing on three different lines because of the injuries to Brassard and Stepan. He was a forechecking fiend, a key on the penalty kill, and a monster in the faceoff circle, where he won 57 of his 80 draws (71.3 percent).

Next to Lundqvist, Boyle was the Rangers' most dominant penalty killer. Like Moore, he was a forechecking nightmare for the Canadiens.

Two of Boyle's passes were huge factors in the series. He sprung Hagelin for his shorthanded breakaway in Game 4, and he delivered the pass to Moore from behind the net for the lone goal in Game 6.

4. Mac Attack

Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was selected by Montreal with the No. 12 pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, but former Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey traded him to New York in the Scott Gomez deal two years later.

It looks like one of the worst trades in Canadiens' history, and one of the best for the Rangers.

McDonagh tortured the Canadiens in the conference final with his powerful skating, his marvelous speed and his confidence to pinch deep into the offensive zone.

Whether he was setting up goals (he had eight assists in the series), scoring them (he had two goals) or backchecking like crazy to take away a sure breakaway attempt by Brendan Gallagher, which he did in Game 2, McDonagh was a force and the Canadiens had no answer for him.

Martin St. Louis
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 13
SOG: 44 | +/-: 0
5. Marty's Moments

Martin St. Louis played the series with a heavy heart filled with grief. He buried his mother, France, after Game 1 in his hometown of Laval, Quebec, with the entire Rangers' traveling party, including players and coaches, by his side.

St. Louis, as he's done since learning of his mother's death on May 8, before Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, took his emotion onto the ice and used it to help the Rangers' cause.

He set the tone of Game 1 by scoring the first goal at 4:35 of the opening period. St. Louis scored the insurance goal in Game 2, putting the Rangers ahead 3-1, more than enough on a night when Lundqvist stopped 40 of 41 shots.

St. Louis saved his best for overtime in Game 4, when he parked himself in the right circle, got the puck from Hagelin, walked in on Tokarski and ripped a shot into the top corner to give the Rangers a 3-2 win and a 3-1 lead in the series.


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