As sightseeing cities go, Montreal is near the top, featuring such sites as The Old Town, Mount Royal and Bell Centre.
But after two separate visits, the Rangers had seen enough of Habtown and had no desire to return for a Game 7 on Monday night.
Avoiding such a fate, the Rangers instead enjoyed a fete, celebrating their 3-1 win last night at The Garden thrusting the Blueshirts into Round 2 of the playoffs.
Ousting the harassing Habs in six difficult games, Alain Vigneault‘s skaters relied on a blend of Mats Zuccarello‘s two-goal stick, Henrik Lundqvist‘s near airtight goaltending and the icing on the First Round Cake, Derek Stepan‘s open-netter.
New York now awaits the winner of the Boston-Ottawa series. In the interim, they will review the first round success and scout the opposition, whichever team that will be.
Conquering the Canadiens in six games was no easy task. After blanking the Habs in the series-opener, the Blueshirts dropped two straight, looked thoroughly fatigued in Game 3 but then regrouped as if oxygen-filled.
Victories at home and then the successful sudden-death venture in Montreal last Thursday put them in position to clinch at home.
To do so, A.V.’s skaters were required to rely on their skills and — no less important — a killer instinct against a noble team fighting for its playoff life.
Conceding a first-period lead to Montreal in which the Blueshirts were badly outshot, they remarkably revived themselves — just like they had done earlier in the series — and won the game with a pair of Zuccarello goals.
From that point on, they relied on a combination of peerless penalty-killing, vigorous checking enhanced by the smell of success.
Nevertheless, the result was in doubt right down to the final minute — with goalie Carey Price removed for an extra attacker — and the Habs pressing hard.
Finally, it was a Stepan Texas Leaguer into the yawning Habs net that guaranteed a second round visit for the Rangers; a feat missed last spring.
That leaves the Blueshirts a mere dozen wins from The Stanley Cup.
OVERVIEW: For starters, there was Motivation with a capital ‘M.’ No Ranger wanted to play in a Game 7 at Bell Centre. Secondly, there was the joy of winning a series at The Garden. And, finally, there’s the expectation that this band of Blueshirts can beat any opponent presented to them by the National Hockey League. The Blueshirts enter Round 2, healthy, stealthy and wise, ready for the winner of the Boston-Ottawa series.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- THE END JUSTIFIED THE MEANS: You can take all the assorted blueprints you want to class in Hockey 101, but in this First Round Reality Show, what matters is winning … not so much the How of it. Vigneault’s sextet absorbed Montreal’s best shots, gave up the initial goal, rebounded from it and executed the definitive game plan — they won.
- MAESTRO MATS: With his club outscored and outplayed in the first period, Zuccarello rallied the troops with a power play goal to tie the count and then delivered an even-strength red light to put them ahead. The Minuscule Man played big all game, forechecking like a ferret on the spoor of a loose puck.
- ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL: Vigorously outplayed in the first period, the Rangers finally ignited their attack in the second frame outshooting Montreal, 12-9. Once New York took the lead the pendulum suddenly swung in its favor; never to return to the Habs side.
- P.K. O.K.: After taking a second-period lead, the Rangers J.T. Miller took a high-sticking penalty. The Blueshirts held fast and killed the Canadiens power play. In the third period, Chris Kreider was nailed for high-sticking at 9:07. Once again, the penalty-kill worked only this time at its most vital time in the entire series.
- DECISIVE POWER PLAY: Down a goal entering the second period, the Rangers needed to penetrate the often flawless Price. This time the Habs goalie was flawed as Zuccarello beat him on a stoppable, power play shot low on the right side. This deflated the visitors and inspired bedlam inside The Garden.
- HANK’S FULL TANK; This wasn’t necessarily Lundqvist’s most overwhelming effort but, apart from the opening goal, he shut the door on the Habs. He was tested right down to the end and was equal to every task through the second and third periods.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- CLAUDE JULIEN: “It was a tough series and our players really worked hard but their goalie (Henrik Lundqvist) was their best player. We weren’t good enough and that’s why we lost. At the end of the day, we couldn’t put it past that goaltender. Playoffs is a game of inches; a mistake here and there cost us the game and the series. We had a lot of Grade-A chances but we couldn’t finish.”
- DEREK STEPAN: “Each team tried to get the edge in physicality. I felt that we got it. We wound up getting the big games from the big players. Mika (Zibanejad) in Game 5; Hank (Lundqvist) in Game 1 and the winner; along with Mats. We didn’t like the way we played in the first period. They came out with a big push and we didn’t match their intensity. But we made adjustments and understood there were still two periods to play. Plus, we talked about making good on the power play and tonight we were able to do so. In the end, it was timely goals, timely saves and small details that made the difference.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “This win means a lot to me because we put a lot of effort into every game here. This was a series in which the teams didn’t give much. Price was playing well and we didn’t get anything for free. We had to work really hard until the end to get it done. It’s a great feeling to get it done before our own fans. The last few days it’s been pretty intense but all worth it.”
- BRADY SKJEI: “This was a very physical series and we were up to the task; stepping up in that department while sticking to our skill game. But this is just the first stop and I don’t want to look too far ahead. For now, we’ll enjoy this and then focus on our next opponent.”
- PAVEL BUCHNEVICH: “Now I’m going to sleep more. I haven’t been sleeping lately because of all the noise outside my window. This was a hard season for me, starting with the injury and it took a long time to recover. It’s a good thing I came back and am playing again. I feel very good now and about the Montreal series. I learned a lot and gained experience. Now I feel as if I’m part of the team.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “Mats (Zuccarello) has a nose for the net. I always tell him to trust his shot and tonight it was going in the back of the net. Zucc backs down from nobody; he loves the physical play and loves getting in guys’ faces. He knows when it’s time to make a play and makes those opportunities happen.”
- MATS ZUCCARELLO: “We all stepped up. We don’t have a star player on this team; we all carry our own weight. This was a good, hard-fought series; a tough one. Montreal was a great, tough team to play against. They made it hard for us but we have a tough team in here. Hank was unbelievable and our d-men were, too, especially blocking shots. It was inspiring to us forwards. Now it’ll be a nice couple of days off before getting ready for the next round.”
- DAN GIRARDI: “Getting two out of three at home was really good for us. Tonight it started with the great crowd at the Anthem and even in the warmup, they were buzzing. We tried to feed off them as best we could. Now we need to regroup, watch a little hockey tomorrow and see what’s going on. Our next opponent will be different and we’ll have to prepare differently for them. Now, we’re going in the right direction.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We had a lot of focus after Game 3. My players responded after that. It was a hard-fought series with our goaltending making the big saves. I have a lot of confidence in this group. Mats competes every shift and has become a big part of our team; keeps the team together. It was a take no prisoner series and we were able to come out on top. Now we start getting ready for Boston or Ottawa.”
TURNING POINTS: Trailing by a goal and unable to beat Price, the Rangers finally broke through on Zuccarello’s power-play goal at 2:16 of the second period. It got the crowd back in the game. The winning goal was produced by Zuccarello at 13:31 of the second period. Lundqvist’s last big save was late in the third period on Tomas Plekanec, saving the victory.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Rangers play either Ottawa or Boston, the opponent still to be determined. Either way, the Blueshirts open on the road.
BOTTOM LINE: Alain Vigneault’s skaters did what they had to do after playing a blah third series game and appearing on the verge of blowing the series. Clutch players such as Lundqvist and Zuccarello came through with more to be expected from the likes of Kreider and Kevin Hayes in the next round. This club is now primed for a long run.