For the first time since 1994, the New York Rangers are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals, and this time, they didn't even need two overtimes to get there.
The Rangers dominated the apparently exhausted Canadians in the 6th and final game of the Eastern Conference Finals, a contest which stood in stark contrast to the penultimate game 5. After the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 1-0 Rangers, but the score alone didn't do justice to the Blueshirts' effort. The Rangers didn't break through until late in the second, when Dominic Moore finished off a Brian Boyle feed in front of the net, but up to that point, only Montreal's shot blocking — and Dustin Tokarski's stellar goaltending — had kept them in the game.
After searching all playoffs long for a killer instinct, the Blueshirts appeared to find it in the third period.
Rather than sit back and nurse their 1-0 lead — and risk an unfortunate bounce that would've sent many in the Garden to their cardiologist — the Rangers pressed the issue and put the flat Canadians squarely on their heels. Indeed, in the absence of a scoreboard, it would've been easy to assume the Blueshirts were the ones that trailed and were fighting for their playoff lives. As they had for much of the series, the Rangers wore the beleaguered Montreal defense — missing injured Alexei Emelin — down with their speed. P.K. Subban in particular appeared weary. In the series' final period, the Blueshirts outshot their competitors 13-5, and barely allowed the Habs to sniff the net — let alone generate a decent scoring chance.
But on the rare occasion when there was a breakdown, Henrik Lundqvist was of course there. After all the ugly numbers being spouted in recent days — winless in the last several years in non-elimination potential clinchers, sub .900 SV% in those games, ect. — The King bounced back, and was big when it mattered. He only saw 18 shots, but no one will soon forget his spinning-kicking desperation save on Thomas Vanek's deflected centering feed — made in the second period when the game was still scoreless. If that goes in — and it should have — who knows how the Rangers' fate would have changed? Because of Lundqvist, we won't have to.
So now, after proving their superiority to the Montreal Canadians — and make no mistake, injuries or no injuries, the better team won this series — it's onto the finals, where Los Angeles or Chicago await. The Blueshirts will get a much appreciated five-day rest, during which the phrase "_____ will be our toughest test of the playoffs" will be uttered a few hundred times. And it's true — whether it's LA or the defending champs, the team the Rangers draw in the finals will be the most complete squad they've come up against. They will be an underdog — and rightfully so — but the never-do-it-the-easy-way Rangers probably wouldn't have it any other way.
But that's all a story for another day. For now, the Blueshirts and their fans get to — and should — enjoy the victory, because as the Rangers have proven over the years, this doesn't happen every day.
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