To paraphrase Sam Rosen, the waiting for another chance to play for the Stanley Cup is over! After a twenty year wait, the Rangers are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final, 1-0, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, winning the best-of-seven series four games to two.
The Rangers will play for the Cup for the eleventh time in franchise history, and first since winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. They will face either the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks beginning next Wednesday. The Kings lead the Western Conference Final three games to two with Game Six slated for Friday night in Los Angeles.
"It's a great night, but we've already talked about it as a group that we'll feel good for a couple days because we actually know we don't play 'til next Wednesday, and it's something that you have to keep in the back of your mind that this is not the ultimate goal," said alternate captain Brad Richards after the game. "It's an amazing achievement to be able to play for the Cup, but these two and a half weeks will go by real quick and you don't want to get caught behind to start the series. We have to stay sharp."
Richards and Martin St. Louis--two of the three previous Stanley Cup winners on the current Rangers roster, along with the suspended Daniel Carcillo--decided during the on-ice celebration that no one on the team should touch the Prince of Wales Trophy which was presented to the Rangers as Eastern Conference champions at the conclusion of the contest. Fellow alternate captain Marc Staal waved his all of his teammates to join him, Richards, and Dan Girardi when the three team alternate captains were called to accept the trophy from Bill Daly, the NHL's Deputy Commissioner.
Though no one touched the Prince of Wales Trophy, the entire team did pose for pictures by it as The Garden rocked in a delirious celebration.
Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled from Game Five just 48 hours earlier after allowing four goals on 19 shots in the Rangers 7-4 loss in Montreal, stopped all 18 shots he faced in Game Six, earning his ninth career playoff shutout, tying Mike Richter for the all-time franchise record. Lundqvist also picked up his 42nd career post-season win, passing Richter for the all-time franchise lead among goalies.
"Tonight, I don't think I've ever been more determined to win a hockey game," stated Lundqvist. "To put ourselves in a spot where we can play for the Cup is extremely special. I'm also extremely proud how we did it."
Lundqvist faced only five shots in the third period as the Rangers dominated play while holding on to the slimmest of leads, 1-0. New York had the puck nearly the entire period, a fitting climax to a near-perfect performance by a Blueshirts team which was determined not to return to Montreal to play a seventh and deciding game in this series.
"We played so well the entire game," Lundqvist said. "It was such a great feeling to see how we responded after the last game; and in the third period I thought we played our best period in the playoffs. When it really mattered the most the guys really stepped up. It was just awesome."
Montreal rookie Dustin Tokarski kept his vastly-outplayed team in the game with one huge save after another, especially in the third period when he made 13 stops with the Rangers owning the puck and blitzing the Canadiens at will. Tokarski finished with 31 saves in a gallant losing effort.
After playing a scoreless first period, the two teams nearly got through the middle twenty without either side finding the back of the net, but the Rangers finally broke through with just one minute 53 seconds to play in the second period. After a prolonged shift in the offensive zone with the fourth line forechecking hard and winning a series of battles along the boards, Boyle slipped a pass out in front of the Canadiens net and Dominic Moore wristed a shot stick-side past Tokarski for the hugely-important first goal of the game--and as it turned out, the only goal that would be scored all night.
The goal was Moore's third of the playoffs, and his first since he scored the game-winner in Game Five against the Flyers in the first round at The Garden. It set off an emotional release of noise inside The World's Most Famous Arena, but it also sparked the visitors who picked up their play after Moore's goal, eventually drawing a late power play when Richards hooked Tomas Vanek on the way to the net with 13 seconds to play in the period.
The Rangers, though, expertly killed off the Habs power play, with forwards Moore, Boyle, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash excelling at getting the puck repeatedly out of the Blueshirts zone and down the ice.
"It's an incredible feeling to be able to play for the Cup, it's something special," said Moore, who played a particularly inspiring game. "I am really proud to be a part of this group."
Said Staal of Moore, "He's a big emotional leader for us in our room. He's been around a long time, has a lot of experience, and throughout this run here big moments and big games he's played a huge role, and that's what we need. It's great to see obviously, and I'm proud to be his teammate, for sure."
That the game was scoreless until Moore found the back of the net was due in large part to an incredible Lundqvist save four minutes prior, and a puck finding iron instead of netting earlier in the second. The first close call came at 5:14 when, at the end of a Rangers power play, Derek Stepan's left wing shot nicked Tokarski's glove before hitting the far post. Lundqvist then did his part with the save of the series.
After a turnover in front of the Rangers net, Montreal had a 2-on-0 against Lundqvist with Vanek sending a backhand shot towards the cage from the left of the Blueshirts goaltender. A desperate Girardi dove and reached out with his stick, slightly deflecting the shot, forcing Lundqvist into an acrobatic, sprawling blocker save in which he rolled over, lost his stick on purpose, and had his legs above his head as Boyle swooped in to knock the puck out of danger.
"It was a spectacular save," head coach Alain Vigneault said simply.
Staal said with a smile, "That was the slowest moving puck I've seen just watching it after he swung his arm around and got it with the blocker I guess. It's a huge momentum thing because he saves that and shortly after we score."
That was far and away the most difficult save for Lundqvist on the night, with New York holding an 11-5 shots advantage after one period and 19-13 advantage through two, and finishing up 32-18. It was Tokarski who was tested more often, starting with a stacked pads stop on a Mats Zuccarello odd-man rush 90 seconds into the game, and including a sharp post-hugging save on a Carl Hagelin shorthanded wraparound with speed early in the second.
Tokarski made his most clutch save 6:17 into the third period when he robbed Derick Brassard on the doorstep with a right-pad stop--Brassard falling backward was unable to lift it over the prone Canadiens goalie. That huge save kept Montreal in the game with the score remaining 1-0. However with his own team unable to generate any offense whatsoever over the final twenty minutes of play, Tokarski was forced to watch from the bench with 1:53 remaining, replaced by a sixth attacker, as the Canadiens season slowly came to a close.
"It's pretty shocking when you have that feeling of accomplishment and you know you have an opportunity to compete for (the Stanley Cup)," stated defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played a team-high 25:27 and also assisted on Moore's goal, his team-leading tenth point in the series. "We've battled a lot here, and all along our group has really believed in each other and maintained a great focus on trying to prepare the same way for every game. Everybody played to their strengths and came through for the entire group."