'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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After the Rangers fell into a 3-1 series hole, it appeared that Henrik Lundqvist was further away than ever from earning a date with Lord Stanley. All the Penguins needed to do was win one of three remaining games, two of which were on home ice at Consol Energy Center.
With his back pressed against the wall, Lundqvist stared elimination in the face and produced his superhuman best. "King Henrik" proceeded to save 102 of 105 shots against as the Rangers completed a three-game rally to eliminate the Penguins, marching into the Eastern Conference finals.
Lundqvist saved 35 of the 36 shots he faced in Game 7. When the Penguins circled his crease like sharks in the final five minutes of the third period, Lundqvist took his game to a whole new level to hang on to a tight 2-1 victory. Rangers fans have grown accustomed to The King's breathtaking heroics, but those final minutes may have been the best hockey Lundqvist has ever played in his nine-year career.
"Where they (the Penguins) took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender obviously took his game to another level," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "And was just able to stop a barrage of opportunities and you know, he was the difference in tonight's game."
Lundqvist now stands alone with an NHL-record five straight Game 7 wins, passing Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour and Cam Ward. Roy, Belfour and Ward have lifted Lord Stanley's Cup.
Four victories separate Lundqvist from reaching his first-ever Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers' next opponent will be determined on Wednesday night as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens lock horns in what should be a classic Game 7 at TD Garden.
There is a Stanley Cup poster hanging in the Rangers' locker room with a motto inspired by courageous NYPD officer Steven McDonald -- "Above And Beyond: Earn It." After eliminating the Penguins in seven games, Lundqvist was handed the Broadway hat and pinned on the eighth piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle. Lundqvist and the Rangers are halfway there, needing eight more victories to take the NHL's biggest prize.
BOYLE PUTS IN MONSTER GAME 7 PERFORMANCE
To win a Game 7, it took a full team effort – and that's exactly what happened on Tuesday night for the Rangers. Twelve forwards, six defenseman and of course Lundqvist all deserve equal praise. Yet, forward Brian Boyle really sticks out as a player who put it all on the line to secure the Blueshirts' passage into the Eastern Conference finals.
When it was finished, Boyle had scored a goal on his only shot, won four of six face-offs, delivered five punishing hits and selflessly threw his body in front of speeding rubber to block four shots. There are certain guys who rise in big games, and Boyle is certainly one of them.
He's a player who deserves to be a Ranger for years to come. With unrestricted free agency around the corner, Boyle will have earned a raise from his $1.7 million. It's in the best interest of the Rangers to do everything in their power to lock up Boyle to a multi-year extension.
RICHARDS KEEPS PERFECT GAME 7 RECORD ALIVE
It was fitting that alternate captain Brad Richards scored the game-winning power play goal. This guy has stepped up as the spokesperson and captain without a 'C' stitched on the front of his jersey. It's amazing how his career has turned around from the point last playoffs, when former head coach John Tortorella stuck him in the press box at TD Garden during the final games before the Rangers' elimination to the Bruins.
Looking back, it seems crazy that Torts would willingly exclude a player whose resume is chock full of big-game heroics. Richards is thriving under Vigneault because A.V. has allowed Richards the latitude and space to be himself. He's not ceaselessly barking in Richards face the way Tortorella did during his final season in New York.
Richards is now 7-0 in career Game 7s, tying Hall of Famer Red Kelly. It's hard to imagine the Rangers reaching the Eastern Conference finals had Richards been bought out during the summer. General manager Glen Sather should be given credit where credit is due for opting to keep Richards around after his game had appeared to have deteriorated under Tortorella.
A.V. and Richards have been a perfect match. Vigneault's calm personality helped rebuild Richards' confidence during the summer and Richards' increased offseason workout regimen is paying off. He has the legs to continue being a valuable contributor this time of year. Richards is finally playing like the confident veteran Rangers fans expected him to be when he signed the nine-year, $58.5 million contract to join the Blueshirts in the summer of 2011.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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