NEW YORK – All season long, the Rangers have talked about how they have to play.
In Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal with the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers played how they have to play.
They blocked shots — 23, to be exact, they won wall battles, they dominated the time of possession game for large stretches, they played stifling defense.
And, they got some good bounces. Two of those bounces were all it took to win Game 7, 2-1 at a rollicking Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
“People say when you lose a game you got outworked, or when you win a game you outworked them; that isn’t true,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “That didn’t happen this series. The team that made a couple extra big plays in a game wins the game. That’s how close this series was.”
“We’ve played like that all year long. Especially playoffs, Game 7, you have to make those big blocks, take those big hits; do all you can to win,” said defenseman Marc Staal, whose odd-man rush goal opened the scoring at 4:46 of the second. “That was pretty intense. You’re doing everything you can to keep the puck away from your net. They had some pressure on us. For the most part, we tried to keep them to the outside.”
It wasn’t always pretty. In fact in the later stages of the third period, the Rangers were hemmed in for minutes at a time as the clock ever-slowly inched towards zero. But, they did what they had to do. After losing late leads in Games 2 and 4, they held onto those advantages in the final two games to come back after trailing 3-2 in the series after Game 5.
“The whole series was just a big war,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves). “It was going back and forth, it was good hockey, it was intense, big battles in front of the nets, it was fun.”
For the Rangers, Game 7 was a chance to build on their identity. After earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, their backs were up against a wall after five games. But this resilient group stayed on their game, and won two intense playoff battles to advance into the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they will face 7th-seeded Washington.
“We were still confident going into Game 6. We knew we had to get that game to get it back here and we’d have a good shot to close it out,” Staal said. “We stayed confident, we stayed with it. I don’t think anybody in this room doubted for a second we were going to come back.”
“We’ve come back all year, we’ve played well,” said captain Ryan Callahan. “This is just another step in building on that. We drew back on our third periods from earlier in the year.”
“It’s a tremendous experience. It’s hard to explain,” Tortorella said of the experience of playing in Game 7. “People want to play in those games. Do you want to win a series 4-0? Sure; you want to win those games and get out of it. When you get into this type of situation, it’s a great opportunity. You just don’t get a lot of these.”
Dan Girardi, another of the Rangers hard-working, blue collar, homegrown talents, scored the game-winning goal in the second when he was the recipient of a loose puck in the slot after Brandon Dubinsky slapped a backhanded feed towards the pinching defenseman at 9:04 of the second. Daniel Alfredsson’s power play tally 2:30 later brought the Senators to within one, but the Rangers defense – and Lundqvist – held firm after that.
“It’s huge to score the game-winner in game 7 of the first round,” Girardi said. “Obviously a big thing for myself. Anyone could have scored the goal and been the hero.”
“The veteran leadership is the reason this team had such a successful regular season and why they’re such a close group,” said rookie Chris Kreider, who skated 18:21 and played his best game of the series. “You don’t get very far if you don’t have leaders on your team – with letters and without; we have some great leaders.”
“That was a hard series against a very good team,” Tortorella said. “Both teams went toe-to-toe in all areas of the game. Sometimes the first round is the hardest round; and that’s all this is, one round. We found a way, we’re fortunate. I’m very happy with the group, and they should be very proud of themselves for about an hour. Really; it’s coming up quickly – the next series starts quickly. [Saturday at 3 p.m.] So, we have some things to get ready and get to the next one.”
The last time the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 series hole was the 1994 Eastern Conference Final against the Devils
Tonight is the first time in franchise history the Rangers had multiple goals scored by defensemen in Game 7 of a playoff series. It’s the first time since 1950 a team win a Game 7 without having a forward score a goal.
The Rangers won 52% of faceoffs in the game. The only other game in the series the Rangers had an advantage at the faceoff dot was Game 2 (51%).