By Brian Monzo
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It took seven games. Seven hard fought games. But in the end, the Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers were the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, and that allowed them to have home-ice advantage if a series were to go seven games. That may be one of the biggest reasons the Blueshirts are moving on.
Last night's Game 7 was exactly what everyone thought it would be. It was low scoring and stressful for fans of both teams. As usual, Henrik Lundqvist was the Rangers' best player, making 26 saves to preserve the 2-1 series clinching win.
The game started fast, with both teams getting chances. The refs did a nice job of letting the players play and not making any weak calls almost throughout the entire game. The second period is when all the scoring happened. Rangers rookie Chris Kreider forced a turnover, allowing Derek Stepan to find Marc Staal to bury the puck. Minutes later, Dan Girardi was the beneficiary of a bouncing puck right in front of the net, beating Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
The Rangers would not be able to hold the two-goal lead for long, as Chris Neil drew a penalty on Michael Del Zotto. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson drilled a slap shot, cutting the deficit to one.
The Rangers headed to the third period with a one-goal lead. Throughout the series, the Rangers struggled holding leads. Despite the Senators' best efforts, including two good chances for Milan Michalek, Lundqvist was able to turn everything aside.
The Rangers are now 4-0 in Game 7s at MSG.
This was a total team effort, and now the Rangers will battle the No. 7 Washington Capitals, who knocked out the Bruins in seven games. That series will start Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
We can stop with all the complaining about the refs (for now) and Neil. The fact is this was a tough series and both teams played their hearts out. If Neil was a Ranger, he would be a fan favorite. I'm sure Brandon Prust rubs teams the wrong way. And let's not forget the Rangers had Sean Avery. He was great for the Rangers, but hated by everyone else.
What I loved most about this series was the grittiness. There wasn't much room for error for either team. The Rangers played the game they played the entire season. They blocked shots, banged in pucks and relied on everyone on their roster to contribute.
Two players (aside of Lundqvist, obviously) that were most impressive were Stepan and Kreider. They are now part of the Rangers second line with Ryan Callahan. Stepan struggled last year in the playoffs and was bad in the first four games of this series. I don't know what he ate before Game 4, but he was a different player. He controlled the ice, had great vision and made things happen.
Kreider made his NHL debut this series. Starting in Game 3 in the series, Kreider's role increased. In Game 7, he may have been the Rangers' best forward. He has been strong on the puck, demonstrated a nose for the net and has now been trusted by coach John Tortorella in big time moments of games. Kreider is going to continue to develop, but it's evident the Rangers have something special in the youngster.
I love how Brad Richards upped his game as the series went on, most notably in Game 6. It's games like that, which make his contract worth every penny. His experience at this point of the season is priceless.
Rookie Carl Hagelin, despite missing three games for his suspension, made all the difference in the series. His speed has been a game-changer, and he was on the ice late in Game 7, drawing a penalty against the Senators, clinching the win for the Blueshirts.
Staal's game continues to get better. He is slowly getting back to where he was a year ago. At his best, there's still room to get better.
If the Rangers are going to continue to be successful in the playoffs, they are going to need Marian Gaborik to start getting on the scoreboard. He has been responsible in both ends of the ice, but he needs to do what he is paid for, and that is scoring goals.
It is still unknown the status of Brian Boyle. Boyle was knocked out of the series in Game 5 with a concussion. With a few days to recover, perhaps there's a chance he returns for the second round.
The Rangers would also like to get some offense from Artem Anisimov.
For all the doubters of Lundqvist, I think he showed his worth this series. However, for him and the team, he's going to have to elevate his game even more the Rangers to get to the conference finals.
Like Tortorella said, the team should be proud of themselves ... for about an hour. This thing is just getting started.
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