The New York Rangers completed an improbable comeback from a 3-1 series deficit on Tuesday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center in Game 7, 2-1, to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical significance of this valiant rally for the Rangers franchise:
Rangers come back from 3-1 down to eliminate Penguins, 1st time they've overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series in team history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 14, 2014
A hard-fought first period saw the visitors draw first blood after just 5:25 of scoreless action, as Brian Boyle put the Blueshirts on the board. The NHL's official Twitter accounted noted how successful teams had been in the second round when lighting the lamp first:
Just when it appeared that all the momentum would swing in favor of the visitors, a misguided effort to play the puck by Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist led to a sequence that resulted in the equalizer.
Penguins playmaker Evgeni Malkin snapped a pass to the point for Olli Maatta, who rifled a big slap shot through traffic that bounced right to Jussi Jokinen on the rebound, and he roofed it past Lundqvist at 4:15 in the second.
But that reprieve would be a temporary one, as Pittsburgh continued to be frustrated by Lundqvist's sturdiness between the pipes and the Rangers' knack for blocking shots. Fox Sports 1's Jon Morosi had this to say about Lundqvist, who stopped 35 of 36 shots:
Henrik Lundqvist has been the best player on the ice tonight. Not close.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 14, 2014
ESPN's Steve Levy had questioned Lundqvist's elite status in the past, but not after this performance:
Henrik Lundqvist is a top 5 goalie...i was previously mistaken— Steve Levy (@espnSteveLevy) May 14, 2014
Both teams were extremely physical without committing unforced errors or penalties, successfully taming the emotions that tend to run hot amid a Game 7 atmosphere.
While the Penguins failed to convert their only power-play chance of the evening, New York capitalized on its second and final opportunity, as Brad Richards' fourth goal of the playoffs wound up being the game-winner.
The fact that Richards was even playing for New York had to convince his club that it was in good hands, per this statistic from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic:
There are always tons of wild Game 7 stats, but none of them tonight tops Brad Richards being 6-0 in Game 7s for his career.— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) May 14, 2014
Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlined the struggles Pittsburgh had with the man advantage throughout the playoffs:
Penguins' power play, NHL's best during regular season, is now 1-for-20 against New York.— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) May 13, 2014
Before the game, New York veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who was acquired in a deadline trade from Tampa Bay, discussed how his new teammates have rallied around him after the passing of his mother.
"I think when something like that happens to one person to see the support you get from everybody else, it really makes it real," St. Louis told reporters. "There's not phoniness about the family feeling you want to create."
St. Louis appropriately had a hand in setting up Richards' winner, sending the Rangers back to the Big Apple four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite being out-shot by nearly a 2-1 ratio at 36-20, New York found a way to grind this Game 7 out and win against a high-powered offense. Lundqvist did all but stand on his head, and the Rangers played inspired hockey, as the biggest Penguins stars in Malkin and Sidney Crosby could generate little spark on the offensive end.
And this epic charge back by New York came without any help from prolific scorer Rick Nash, as Peter Botte of the New York Daily News noted:
The Rangers are in the Eastern Conference Finals with no goals in 14 games from Rick Nash. #TeamSport— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) May 14, 2014
A combination of defense, collective heart and Lundqvist's prowess could carry the Rangers far enough to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, but Nash would do well moving forward to contribute a little more. It has to give New York a massive boost of confidence that it's been able to step up in lieu of Nash's production.
As for the Penguins, they are yet again heartbroken in the postseason, and have not lived up to expectations since winning the 2009 Stanley Cup. Coach Dan Bylsma's job security has to be in question, and the fact that such a strong offense scored once in each of the last three games is alarming for Pittsburgh's future.