Rangers advance to 2nd round for 5th time in 6 years
NEW YORK — After pulling out a tough first-round series with three straight wins, the New York Rangers get a couple days to regroup for the next round.
It’s a routine they know well.
Mats Zuccarello scored twice and the Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.
A year ago, the Rangers were bounced out of the first round by Pittsburgh, which went on to win the Stanley Cup. Now, they’re on to the second round for the fifth time in six years.
Getting there this time wasn’t easy.
The Rangers were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead before Tomas Plekanec tied it for the Canadiens with less than 18 seconds left in Game 2 and Alexander Radulov won it midway through overtime. Then, New York struggled to generate many chances in Game 3, and a 3-1 loss put Montreal up 2-1.
That was the Rangers’ sixth straight home loss in the post-season, and critics questioned if their struggles at Madison Square Garden — they lost eight straight (0-5-3) on home ice down the stretch in the regular season before winning the final two home games — would doom them.
Instead, they responded with three wins in five days, including Games 4 and 6 at home.
“It’s been pretty intense the last few days but it’s all worth it,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who had 27 saves in Game 6 and stopped 194 of 205 shots in the series. “The message going into this game was it’s not going to be handed to us in any way. We had to work really hard until the end to get it done.”
The Rangers had balanced scoring with eight players scoring a goal and 18 getting at least a point. Mika Zibanejad, who had the overtime winner in Game 5 at Montreal on Thursday night, led with four points, and Rick Nash, Jesper Fast and Zuccarello had three each.
In the clincher, the Rangers trailed 1-0 after a lacklustre first period before Zuccarello came through with two big goals in the second for his first career multigoal game in the playoffs. Derek Stepan also scored as New York beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 post-season series.
“It was a real similar, tight-checking series,” Stepan said. “There were some timely goals by us and I also thought there were some timely saves by Hank. It was small details that probably were the difference, but a timely goal and timely save here and there.”
After going 0 for 14 on the power play during the first five games, the Rangers finally broke through on their lone chance in Game 6 as Zuccarello got a pass from Zibanejad and sent it past goalie Carey Price from the right circle at 2:26 of the second to tie the score.
It fired up the Madison Square Garden crowd that was raucous during the national anthems but had been silenced by the Rangers slow start in the first period.
Zuccarello put the Rangers ahead with his second of the game and third of the post-season with 6:29 left in the middle period to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
Stepan added an empty-netter with 17.8 seconds remaining.
Asked what he saw from his team in the last three games, coach Alain Vigneault said: “Without a doubt, a lot of focus and a lot of character. … Our guys responded. They responded by playing hard and playing the right way. You have to give credit to Montreal, they came at us hard and they competed real hard.”