By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Following up on a gritty 1-0 victory on home ice in Game Six of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, the Rangers stared down playoff elimination again 24 hours later and defeated the Capitals 5-0 on the road at the Verizon Center. As such the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins, who rallied past the Toronto Maple Leafs in their own Game Seven victory on Monday night.
It is the second year in a row that the Rangers won back-to-back elimination games in the first round of the playoffs after trailing the series 3-2. Last spring they ousted the Ottawa Senators after winning Game Six on the road and Game Seven at Madison Square Garden. But this year the Rangers were forced to win Game Six at home and then the seventh game on the road, doing so for the first time in franchise history. They had been 0-5 in playoff Game Sevens on the road prior to winning Monday night. The Rangers are now 6-5 all-time in post-season Game Sevens.
Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped Sunday's must-win with a 27-save shutout, finished the series with back-to-back shutouts, the seventh and eighth of his post-season career. He made 35 saves on Monday night, closing out the series with 120 minutes of scoreless hockey after Mike Ribeiro's overtime goal in Game Five gave Washington a 3-2 series lead.
The Rangers received a huge lift from their gritty role players as Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, and Michael Del Zotto all scored goals, and Derek Dorsett, Steve Eminger, and Chris Kreider were among those who chipped in with assists. Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello also scored for the Rangers while the team's top point producer in the series, Derick Brassard, extended his point-scoring streak to five straight games with two assists, giving him nine points (2-7-9) in the quarterfinals.
The home team had won each of the first six games in this series, and the Rangers had scored only two goals in total in the three previous games at the Verizon Center, but after Lundqvist made a huge save on a Mike Green break-in, Kreider sped the other way with the puck, dropping it perfectly to Asham who blasted a rising right-wing shot past Caps netminder Braden Holtby 13:19 into the first period to give the visitors a hugely important 1-0 lead.
The goal was Asham's second of the series, and was a reward for Lundqvist who was the best player on the ice in the opening 20 minutes stopping all 13 Capital shots as Washington came out with plenty of jump in this decisive Game Seven.
The Rangers turned the game decidedly in their favor early in the second period when Pyatt and Del Zotto scored goals two minutes ten seconds apart to provide the sharp Lundqvist with a rare three-goal cushion. Pyatt netted his first of the playoffs, potting the rebound of an Eminger shot from the right point at 3:24, mere seconds after Dorsett--a buzzsaw in Game Seven just as he was in Game Six---had his left wing shot ring off the crossbar.
Then at 5:34 Del Zotto's shot from the left circle caromed past Holtby after hitting Troy Brouwer's skate in front. While the goal was a fortunate bounce, the effective forecheck and puck possession prior to the score was not. It was an example of just how hard the Rangers worked to earn this victory on Monday. Rick Nash and Brassard earned the assists on Del Zotto's first of the playoffs.
Lundqvist stopped all 13 shots he faced in the second period, and the Rangers came within inches of scoring two more goals before the period was out. Dorsett drove a shot through Holtby's pads, but the puck trickled just wide of the cage; and Derek Stepan snapped a shot off iron before the horn sounded, as well.
With the Capitals desperately seeking a strong start to the third period to get back into the game and save their season, Callahan took the life out of the building by scoring his first goal of the series just 13 seconds into the final period. Callahan stole the puck from Caps defenseman John Erskine at center ice, then broke in on right wing, beating Holtby with a gorgeous backhand finish for the unassisted goal.
Zuccarello made it 5-0 at 6:39 of the third period when he broke in alone on Holtby, and tucked a shot inside the left post for his first career post-season goal. Brassard sprung Zuccarello with a neat pass, as he and Eminger both earned their second assists on the night.
The Rangers did a phenomenal job shutting down Alex Ovechkin, the league's Rocket Richard Trophy winner with 32 regular-season goals. Ovechkin, who played an inspired physical Game Seven, was held without a point in the final five games of this series and totaled just one goal and one assist. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh---who was cut on the face after a monster hit by Ovechkin in the first period---performed heroically in holding Ovechkin off the scoresheet again on Monday night.