WASHINGTON -- The New York Rangers’ stunning 5-0 shutout win that sunk the Washington Capitals was not anticipated in a winner-takes-all Game 7 between two teams that battled toe-to-toe all series.
But ask the Toronto Maple Leafs if things always go as planned.
That’s what the playoffs are all about, and the Rangers were resilient in securing a second-round matchup against the Boston Bruins.
With their season on the line and a daunting road game at Verizon Center on Monday, the Blueshirts put together their most inspired effort of the series, scoring the game’s first goal and never looking back en route to a decisive, commanding victory.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a 5-0 win, the way the series has gone, but it was our best game of the series,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was superb in recording his second straight shutout of the series, recording 35 saves just one night after turning away all 27 shots in Game 6 to take a 1-0 win at Madison Square Garden and force a Game 7.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was the reason the Rangers were able to surmount a 2-0 deficit to start the series, and he was resolute even when the team’s scoring woes resurfaced and its special teams faltered.
“Anything is possible with Hank back there,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He stands tall, he competes so hard and it’s great to see guys willing to block shots; he really respects and honors that, and recognizes that. For everybody, it’s a good feeling, but we want to continue to roll with it.”
Lundqvist was the irrefutable MVP of the series, but his team played outstanding in front of him Monday night in what was the most well-rounded team performance of the season to date.
The Rangers blocked a whopping 27 shots (as compared to just nine for the Capitals) and poured it on for five goals with contributions coming throughout the lineup.
Arron Asham tallied his second goal of the series, and it was a necessary one for the Rangers. Cashing in on a nice, little drop pass from linemate Chris Kreider, Asham beat Capitals netminder Braden Holtby high-glove for the all-important game’s first goal with 6:41 left in the first frame.
Asham joked that he was just a “fourth-line plug” after the game, but he now leads the team in goals after the first round.
"I don’t think the coach is expecting me to go out there and dangle five guys and roof one,” Asham joked. “I play a simple game. I get the puck in, I use my forecheck and whenever the guys get it to me, I try to get it on net the best I can.”
Both third-liner Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Michael Del Zotto chipped in with a goal apiece to give the Rangers a cushy three-goal lead in the second, before the Rangers piled on for a 5-0 edge with third-period markers from captain Ryan Callahan and diminutive winger Mats Zuccarello.
Zuccarello’s goal, a nice deke to beat Holtby, was the final dagger, with young center Derick Brassard picking up his second assist of the game on the play.
Brassard, who was acquired in a trade with Columbus at the trade deadline April 3, finished the series with two goals and seven assists.
“If you look at this team, everyone chips in, everyone helps,” said Nash, who was limited to one assist in his first playoff series as a Ranger. "It's not one guy, besides [our] goalie, who is amazing every night."
The Rangers pretty much counted on that, perhaps too much at times, but Lundqvist’s stellar play makes it easy to do so.
“The last couple of years, I’ve started to focus more and more on my own game and not so much about the team game. I can’t really control what we’re doing out there,” Lundqvist said. “You’re definitely nervous and feeling the pressure. As long as I’m focused on what I have to do, it’s going to help me. But, the way we’ve been playing, especially the last two or three games as a goalie, it’s a great feeling.”
The fact that the Rangers have improved since the team’s first trip to D.C. for Games 1 and 2 bodes well for the club moving on to the next round, Lundqvist said.
There will be a few hours to enjoy the win, but then the focus shifts ahead to the next test.
“To have played this well in such an important game, it’s definitely going to help us moving forward. It’s a lot about confidence, especially in a game like this and the one [Sunday].”
“You have to believe you can do it and you can’t question anything. You can’t think too much about things you can’t control," Lundqvist continued. "It is about going out and taking care of business and doing the things you talk about. We did it and it paid off, big time.”