- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
What it means: Bring on the Devils.
For the first time in 15 years the Rangers are headed to the Eastern Conference finals, following a 2-1 win to knock off the seventh-seeded Capitals in a thrilling Game 7 on Saturday. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist led the way, making 22 saves en route to the series-clinching victory in front of a frenzied hometown crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Richards and Michael Del Zotto tallied for the Rangers as they advanced to face the New Jersey Devils in a Hudson River showdown that begins Monday.
Quick turn: The Rangers took a two-goal lead midway through the third after a fantastic shift by Del Zotto resulted in his second goal of the playoffs, but the Rangers coughed one up on the other end just 38 seconds later when Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik pulled Washington back within a goal at 10:43.
Early lead: Three shifts into the first period, coach John Tortorella went right back to his starting line of Carl Hagelin, Richards and Marian Gaborik -- a move that paid off. Hagelin chased down a dumped puck to feed Richards for a one-timer from the left circle that beat a screened Braden Holtby 1:32 into play. The team that scored first in each of the first six meetings of the series went on to win the game.
Big-goal Brad: The hero behind Game 5’s overtime stunner, Richards tallied his sixth goal of the playoffs with his early marker. The 32-year-old center, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy with six game-winning goals in the 2004 playoffs while playing for Tampa Bay, has seven goals and eight assists in 11 career games when facing elimination.
Showcase saves: Preserving the Rangers' 1-0 lead with the Capitals buzzing throughout the second period, Vezina/Hart trophy finalist Lundqvist made a pair of spectacular saves early in the frame. Lundqvist made diving pokecheck to deny Alexander Semin on a breakaway at 5:02, then made a swift save with his right pad to smother Mike Knuble's chance at the doorstep minutes later.
Dis-Laich: Caps alternate captain Brooks Laich took a beating physically in the second period. After hobbling to the bench after blocking Dan Girardi's shot with his left skate early on, he took a puck to the helmet later in the period.
Dog days: The Caps were without key forward Jay Beagle for the second straight game. The defensive-minded center, also a key penalty-killer for Washington, suffered a lower-body injury when blocking a shot during Game 5. Veteran pivot Jeff Halpern replaced him in the lineup for the second straight game.
Up Next: Rangers vs. Devils, Monday at 8 p.m.
39dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald