After going 18 years without a seventh game in a playoff series at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers and their fans had to sweat for nearly half an hour last night as the Ottawa Senators tried unsuccessfully to overcome a one-goal deficit.
New York got goals from Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, and 26 saves from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to defeat the Senators 2-1 last night and advance to the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Lundqvist received a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd of 18,200 in New York after stopping nine attempts on goal in a third period played mostly in the Senators’ offensive zone. The Rangers held the visiting team scoreless over the final 28 minutes, 26 seconds to secure the victory.
“We’ve played like that all year long, especially in the playoffs,” Staal told reporters. “Game 7 you have to make those big blocks and take those hits, and do whatever you can to win. It was a good test for us.”
The Rangers are 3-1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year, according to R.J. Bell of Pregame.com. The St. Louis Blues are 4-1; the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators are 5-1; the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are 8-1 and the Phoenix Coyotes and Washington Capitals are 10-1.
At BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game 3:47 into the second overtime period to give the Devils a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of their series.
Henrique gave the Devils a 1-0 lead 89 seconds into the first period and Stephen Gionta added a second goal in the next period. Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc tied the game 2-2 in the third period for the Panthers.
The Rangers hadn’t won a Game 7 on home ice since 1994 -- the last time New York was the top seed in the Eastern Conference and won the Stanley Cup.
Visitors Have Advantage
Home ice has provided little advantage for teams this postseason, with the visitor winning 30 of 48 games so far. The Rangers, who already had dropped two playoff games at home to Ottawa, were able to take advantage last night of a crowd waving white towels that read “Blueshirt Pride.”
Fans gathered to cheer more than an hour before the puck was dropped, chanting in front of an oversized blue jersey draped over the statue of Samuel Rea, former president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who supervised the building of the train station underneath the arena.
The noise level inside the building grew as the game progressed, reaching a crescendo in the final minutes and as pyrotechnics exploded at the end.
“We were talking about it in Ottawa, if we could bring it back here, the fans would be behind us,” Girardi said.
Lundqvist and Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson stifled scoring opportunities in a scoreless first period.
The Rangers broke the tie 4:46 into the second period, when a blocked clearing attempt gave New York a two-on-one. Forward Derek Stepan fed a cross-ice pass to Staal, who beat Anderson for his first goal of the postseason. Girardi made it 2-0 four minutes later on an uncontested shot from in front of the Ottawa goal.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who missed three games in the series with a concussion, pulled Ottawa within 2-1 on a power-play goal with eight minutes left in the period.
New York, which allowed 1.86 goals per game during the series, didn’t allow the Senators to get any closer.
“They ramped it up on us there in the second half of the third,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “That’s the true identity of our team there, blocking shots.”
Ottawa’s elimination leaves Canada without a team in the second round for the first time since 1996. The Vancouver Canucks, the top seed in the Western Conference and the only other Canadian team to qualify for the postseason, lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Rangers are now 4-0 in seventh games at Madison Square Garden, with wins in 1992 and 1994 against the New Jersey Devils and the Stanly Cup-clinching win versus Vancouver. The team has also won its past six playoff series when it held home-ice advantage, which it also will hold in the second round against the Washington Capitals.
Tortorella said his team should be proud of the win -- for about an hour.
“Really, because this next series starts quickly,” he said. “Sometimes the first round is the hardest round, and that’s all this is, is one round.”