Henrik Lundqvist stopped 35 shots and the New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.
Brian Boyle and Brad Richards scored for the Rangers last night at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. New York returns to the National Hockey League conference finals for the second time in the past three years, after losing to the New Jersey Devils in six games in 2012.
Lundqvist, 32, and the Rangers were outshot 13-7 in the final period and survived a wild final few minutes in which the Penguins put almost constant pressure on the New York goalie.
“He was OK with guys being on top of him as long as we didn’t take penalties,” New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh told reporters. “He fought through screens, fought for loose pucks. He was incredible.”
Lundqvist, who was fined $5,000 two days ago for squirting water on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, became the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Game 7s.
“It’s about our team showing up for those games,” Lundqvist said in a television interview. “I do my part, but they have to do theirs. That’s been the case the last few years.”
The Rangers will face the winner of the series between the top-seeded Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the conference finals. Those teams meet tonight at Boston in their deciding Game 7.
Boyle scored five minutes, 25 seconds into the game, completing a three-on-one rush. Jussi Jokinen tied the game on his seventh goal of this postseason with 4:15 gone in the second period, only to have Richards score less than four minutes later on a power play to give New York back the lead.
New York beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs, and after winning the opening game of its series against the Penguins, lost the next three. The team was outscored 9-2 in those losses, including a 4-2 home loss in Game 4 that defenseman Ryan McDonagh called “not acceptable at this time of the year on all levels.”
Facing elimination, the team responded with a 5-1 win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, and a 3-1 home win on May 11 to force last night’s Game 7. Rangers forward Martin St. Louis, who came to the team in March in a deal that sent New York captain Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning, scored the opening goal of that 3-1 win, three days after the death of his mother.
“It’s been a tough couple of days for him,” Lundqvist said. “There are so many emotions right now. It’s a roller coaster emotionally, but we handled it the right way and we’re moving on.”
The camaraderie and playoff success comes in the team’s first season in the renovated Madison Square Garden, which in October finished a three-year, privately-financed $1 billion makeover. Shares in Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG), which owns the building, the Rangers and basketball’s New York Knicks, have fallen 17.6 percent in the past 12 months to $49.82.
Under first-year coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers won 45 games in the regular season and finished with 96 points, fifth-most in the Eastern Conference. They entered the playoffs with 20-to-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to online sports book Bovada.lv.
The Rangers have made the playoffs in eight of the past nine years. The team hasn’t advanced to the Stanley Cup finals since winning the league title in 1994.
The Penguins are now 2-7 in Game 7s on their home ice, including losses to Montreal in 2010 and the Lightning in 2011. The league’s best power play during the regular season, Pittsburgh converted 1 of 20 this series and Crosby, the NHL’s leading point scorer this season, was held to one goal in the playoffs.
“I think there’s always questions,” Crosby said. “When expectations are high and you don’t win that’s normal. I’m sure there will be a lot of questions.”
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