By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
The Rangers completed their comeback from a 3-2 series deficit by eliminating the Ottawa Senators with a 2-1 victory in Game 7 Thursday night at a raucous Madison Square Garden. The series win was the first for John Tortorella as Rangers coach and pushed the Blueshirts into a second-round matchup against the Washington Capitals, who eliminated the Rangers in the opening ropund of last year's playoffs.
The Rangers won consecutive one-goal games in Game 6 Monday in Ottawa and in Game 7 Thursday at The Garden to win twice while facing playoff elimination after their 51-win, 109-point gem of a regular season.
Henrik Lundqvist, who starred in goal with 26 saves, helped the preserve the victory with a series of big saves in the game's final minutes---including one with five minutes to play on Kyle Turris from point-blank range. As Ottawa ratcheted up its deperate play, the Rangers were forced to defend much of the game's final few minutes in their own end as the standing and screaming Garden Faithful cheered them on.
Lundqvist was supported by a tenacious Rangers team defense which blocked 23 shots in the game---with three apiece for Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh.
After a scintillating, yet scoreless first period, in which both teams played at an exceedingly high level, the Rangers and Senators combined for three goals in the second period, with the home team netting a pair to take a 2-1 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Staal opened the scoring at 4:46, skating down the middle of the ice to deflect a perfect pass from Derek Stepan from right wing which carried right between the skates of Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar in front. The goal was Staal's first of the series, while Stepan recorded his fourth point in the last two games with the primary assist.
Though he didn't earn an assist on the play, rookie Chris Kreider made Staal's goal possible with a hard hit and steal of the puck from Nick Foligno at the Sens blueline. From there Ryan Callahan transitioned the puck to Stepan, who made the sweet pass to Staal. It was one of a number of big plays made by Kreider----playing in only his fifth game as a pro---at both ends of the ice in the game. Kreider logged more than 18 minutes of ice-time and led the Rangers with four shots on goal.
The Rangers upped their lead to 2-0 at 9:04 when another defenseman---this time Girardi---filled the middle of the ice to roof a centering feed from Brandon Dubinsky. Girardi's first-ever playoff goal (in 39 career post-season games) came after some strong play and hard-hitting back in the Rangers' defensive zone which set the stage for Girardi's goal in transition.
Ottawa finally broke through against a sharp Lundqvist at 11:34 of the second period. With Michael Del Zotto serving a cross-checking penalty, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson ripped a left-wing shot that beat Lundqvist short side for his second goal of the series, cutting the Blueshirts lead in half, 2-1.
However that is as close as the Senators would get. And their final push, with goalie Craig Anderson puleld for a sixth attacker, was snuffed out with 36.2 seconds to play in the third period when Carl Hagelin used his speed to chase a loose puck, forcing Gonchar to trip him in the process. From there the Rangers cycled the puck deep in Ottawa's end of the ice until the final buzzer, with Lundqvist at the other end firing both arms up into the air in celebration.