While some predicted offensive studs like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik would have a big Thursday night for the New York Rangers against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7, this writer suggested that the Rangers' needed to invoke the spirit of Stephane Matteau.
Just as in 1994 when the left winger was the Rangers' unlikely overtime hero in Game 3 and Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils, another unlikely source of offense rose to the occasion in the nick of time.
Thursday night, two defensemen delivered rare goals to put the Broadway Blueshirts past Ottawa and into the next round.
Marc Staal (who missed 36 games with post-concussion syndrome after being levelled by his brother last year) opened the scoring at 4:46 of the second period. Before that, Staal had scored only two goals all season.
Rookie Chris Kreider provoked a turnover and sent the puck into Ottawa's end. Ryan Callahan pushed it ahead to Derek Stepan, who threaded a gorgeous pass across the slot to Staal. He buried it in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Just 4:18 later, Brandon Prust briefly lost the puck, but Brandon Dubinsky collected it and fed a pass to Dan Girardi in the slot. He feasted on the opportunity.
Girardi wound up on the doorstep and fired a hard shot past Craig Anderson for a 2-0 lead. Girardi had played great defense all season long, but had scored just five goals in 82 games. His sixth goal of the year was all the Rangers would need.
Despite allowing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson (who was concussed in Game 2 by Carl Hagelin that resulted in a harsh three-game suspension for the Ranger) to cut the lead in half later in the period, Henrik Lundqvist stopped everything else thrown his way, and the Rangers managed to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
In a tense game, the Rangers exhibited their grit in advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The series was much tougher than they had hoped for, but they rose to the occasion and emerged victorious.
When New York needed a hero to step up, facing the brink of elimination and crushing disappointment, the offense came from an unlikely source—their defense. Staal and Girardi lifted the team just enough, and they have new life in the second round where they will face the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers lost three of four games this season against Washington, but the playoffs are a whole different animal. The Blueshirts will come in relieved and energized, knowing that if they find themselves in need of offense, they can always turn to their defense.