By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers took their foot off the gas and nearly got burned. Thankfully for the Blueshirts and their nervous fans watching at home, all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist donned his Superman cape in a frantic third-period finish to ensure there would be a deciding Game 7 at MSG on Wednesday.
During the final 14:56 on Sunday night, the Rangers failed to record a shot attempt. The surging Washington Capitals out-chanced the visitors 32-0 in shot attempts (SAT) during that spell. Amid the panic, King Henrik kept his cool as the Rangers sneaked out of the nation’s capital with a 4-3 series-extending victory.
“He surprises me every day with his focus,” alternate captain Dan Girardi said. “He’s just so focused on the game, and he makes that save when we need it the most. He was just a wall back there for us when we were just battling and trying to get it out of our zone and get it in their end, but we just couldn’t find it. They had a lot of opportunities, but he was there to close the door.”
Lundqvist’s steely Game 6 performance will be talked about by Rangers fans for decades, especially if the Blueshirts are able to repeat the script by advancing to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance. Summoning his exceptional best, Lundqvist pulled his team through the fire. He faced a season-high 45 shots and finished the night with 42 saves, the most of any non-overtime playoff game of his career.
“There is no doubt that he was a difference maker on the ice tonight,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “I think we came out real strong in the first period. Second period, tough decisions fell off a little bit, and we gave them a couple of looks. And, in the third, we made it 4-1, and they had one of the strongest pushes I have seen the team have, and the building was loud and it was exciting right to the end.”
Having gained what should have been an insurmountable 4-1 lead at 4:24 of the third period, it should have been smooth sailing for the Rangers. All series long, games have been won through responsible, suffocating defense. Instead, the Rangers piled the pressure on Lundqvist’s back.
“We scored that other one and then I think we kind of sat back and they took it to us,” winger Rick Nash said. “It was kind of a matter of sitting back, I think.”
Lundqvist is now 13-3 with a 1.42 goals-against average, a .955 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 16 games facing elimination. Since the start of last year’s playoffs, Lundqvist is 7-1 when the Rangers have been on the brink, saving 286 of 298 shots.
There’s no one else you would rather have standing between the pipes in a series-deciding Game 7. Lundqvist is 5-0 with a 0.80 GAA, a .973 save percentage, and one SO in his last five Game 7 appearances. That’s why King Henrik is paid the big bucks. He just continues to find new levels of concentration and coolness.
Who would bet against Lundqvist outdueling Braden Holtby in Game 7 at the Garden?
MCDONAGH RAISES HIS GAME IN DESPERATE FINAL MOMENTS
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh has been an inspirational presence on all areas of the ice throughout the series, with the Game 5 overtime winner being the highlight. Crucially, McDonagh made a block and clear in the final minute of Game 6. Incredibly, Captain Mac was on the ice for a lung-busting 2:32 of the final 3:07.
This was after he went straight to the dressing room late in the third period. Rangers fans were concerned when McDonagh was on the receiving end of a crunching Alex Ovechkin hit into the glass, came up gingerly and went straight down the tunnel.
Vigneault said that McDonagh is expected to be fine for Game 7.
“He came back,” Vigneault said. “He should be OK.”
McDonagh finished Game 6 with seven hits and seven blocked shots in 23:30 TOI.
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