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For Lundqvist, Rangers, 'to come up short, it's tough'

by John Kreiser /

NEW YORK -- There was one last chant of "Hen-rik!" not the loud, insistent version that followed saves like the one he made on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson in the second period, but more like a thank you from the Madison Square Garden crowd for a playoff of brilliant goaltending.

There was one more stick wave in recognition, one last goodbye before another Stanley Cup-free summer. Then it was time for Henrik Lundqvist to bid farewell to his six-game winning streak in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and get ready for an offseason that's starting too soon.

Lundqvist and the New York Rangers came up one game short of a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final on Friday when the Lightning scored twice in the third period for a 2-0 victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers were dominated for much of the first two periods, but Lundqvist gave New York a chance to win by stopping the 19 shots he faced, including a robbery of Johnson from point-blank late in the second period.

Alex Killorn broke the tie 1:54 into the third period on a seeing-eye backhand that oozed through the five-hole after finding its way through a tangle of legs. Johnson then set up Ondrej Palat for a perfect wrist shot that Lundqvist had no chance to stop for a 2-0 lead with 8:43 remaining.

"We were right there," Lundqvist said after his 10th NHL season came to an end. "I think we all felt [going into the third period] that the next goal was going to be extremely important. Unfortunately, I never saw it until it was too late. There were just a lot of people in front of me. I felt like I was tracking pucks well, reading the play well; it was just one of those plays where they threw it in front and [it went] through screens."

Lundqvist made 23 saves and was named the game's third star. The first star was Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop, who bounced back from a 7-3 loss in Game 6 to make 22 saves and was superb during a New York push in the third period.

Lundqvist, who had won six consecutive Game 7s, was trying to help the Rangers earn a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in five games last June.

"Last year we were closer," Lundqvist said when asked to compare this loss to losing the 2014 Final. "This year we were close to the Final. But to win it, there's a lot of work left."

Lundqvist's play was almost enough to win.

"He made some big saves to keep it tied," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "It was frustrating not to be able to score. He played great, made some huge saves for us tonight. We have to give him some more run support."

They gave him plenty in Games 4 and 6 at Tampa Bay, scoring 12 goals in two victories. But the tight-checking, battle-for-every-inch-of-ice style that resulted in a 2-0 victory for Tampa Bay in Game 5 was in evidence again Friday. One puck that didn't hit a leg or bounce off a stick made the difference.

"We're tight on the checking and the puck had eyes and went through a couple of bodies and through [Lundqvist]," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "That turned out to be the winner."

The lack of offense in their building ended up sinking the Rangers. They scored 17 goals in three games at Amelie Arena, but had four in their four home games, losing the last three.

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 11-8
GAA: 2.11 | SVP: .928
"If you lose three games at home, you're not going to win the series," said Lundqvist, who also lost the 2012 Eastern Conference Final to the New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team and would have had home-ice advantage in the Final against either the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks, who play Saturday in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Instead, New York has to regroup and start all over again in October.

"The last four years, I think, we are one of the teams that played the most games in the playoffs," Lundqvist said. "We're right there. It's a great group to be part of, and we worked extremely hard. This year was not enough, and it was so close. That's what makes it special to go through this, but it's also extremely tough when you don't come out with the result.

"We worked really long and hard to get here and to be in this position. To come up short, it's tough."

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