As good as Henrik Lundqvist, who completed a 120-minute shutout streak to put away Washington 5-0 Monday night at a stone silent Verizon Center, was again, the Rangers won this series by staying in their lanes, staying the course and staying true to themselves.
By Jay Greenberg, Special to CBC Sports
WASHINGTON -- Determined as he was, the only opening that Alex Ovechkin created in Game 7 was in Ryan McDonagh's face.
Practically from Game 3 on, the scariest offensive talent in the league couldn't get the Rangers to crack in any other way. So, eight minutes into the contest, in trying to will his April-forsaken franchise to redemption in any manner he could, Ovechkin lined up the defenceman who had fronted and poke-checked and tracked him through a career-longest five straight scoreless playoff games and put McDonagh into the boards face first.
McDonagh, slumped to the ice, then was treated on the bench for cuts above the right eye and on his cheek. He missed just one shift, and then continued to do what he had been doing since Ovechkin's only goal of the series, on a power play in Game 1.
In other words, only McDonagh's face cracked, never the Rangers. Not when they lost the first two games of the series. Not when they lost in overtime a Game 5 in which they had been badly outplayed. Not when they had to go into a building where they had lost 10 of 11 playoff games over three series to win a Game 7.
As good as Henrik Lundqvist, who completed a 120-minute shutout streak to put away Washington 5-0 Monday night at a stone silent Verizon Center, was again, the Rangers won this series by staying in their lanes, staying the course and staying true to themselves. Lundqvist came up big again in a first period that probably was the most wide open of the series.
But once a screened Braden Holtby was beaten on a short-side goal by Arron Asham off a drop pass by Chris Kreider -- just after Lundqvist had bailed out Kreider for allowing a Mike Green breakaway - the Rangers needed only to stick with the formula that had gotten them this far.
`'Henrik was good early and then we played really well in front of him," said Coach John Tortorella. "We played really well in the slot area and along the boards.
"We have a good group. It's a group that totally understands just taking it one day at a time. Down 2-0, I didn't think we were too far off. Hank was fantastic after that and we found a way." The Rangers stayed out of the penalty box -- Washington's 25 per cent power play during the regular season had only two opportunities Monday night, one long after the game was decided - and they blocked shots, 27 more of them in Game 7.
After Taylor Pyatt put in a smart Derek Dorsett redirection of a Steve Eminger drive to make it 2-0, the Caps' Troy Brouwer was only trying to do what the Rangers were doing, blocking Michael Del Zotto's shot. But it caromed past Holtby and the frustrated Cap's body language announced this was over, long before the end of the second period.
"Everybody is committed," said captain Ryan Callahan, who swiped the puck from John Erskine in the first minute of the third period and beat Holtby with a backhander to make it 4-0. "We sacrifice our bodies to block shots.
"It's not always pretty, but it's times like that when Hank stands tall."
Lundqvist completed the fourth back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 in NHL history, and backstopped a Ranger franchise established in 1926 to its first Game 7 win on the road - ever.
"He was fantastic, especially in Game 6," said Ovechkin. "He is the best goalie in the league right now."
He's also probably the goalie getting the most relentless effort in front of him. The Rangers pulled this off without their shutdown defenceman, Marc Staal; minus an established playoff performer like Ryane Clowe; and with a leading scorer, Derick Brassard, who had never played in the Stanley Cup playoffs before.
The Rangers went two-for-28 on the power play in their series. Their best offensive player, Rick Nash, did not have a goal. And yet none of that mattered in the end. The zeroes they put up to pull this out in the end were a manifestation of their Zen.
"Everybody was just so confident out there," Lundqvist said. "The more we played the better we played as a team, and when you feel that confidence from your group, it's a lot easier to play.
"[McDonagh and Dan Girardi] were shutting down one of the best players in the game. That line is so good and everybody just stepped up against them.
"To play a game like this in such an important game it's going to really help us moving forward."
They had already had some practice, winning two Game 7s a year ago, one of them against Washington. The Rangers made two big trades with Columbus, one to get a big-time scorer in Nash, the other to get back the depth they had dealt away for an impact player, and kept their character and earned the right to grind down the Bruins, too.
"[Milan] Lucic is going to come after McDonagh just like Ovechkin did," said Tortorella, referring to the Rangers' next opponent as Boston beat Toronto in Game 7 Monday night. "It was a penalty [uncalled] but he was trying to will his team to a win and that's what happens this time of year.
"You just have to take it and keep your discipline. That's what won this for us."