WASHINGTON — For 120 minutes over two games, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped every single shot Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals threw at him.
That’s the main reason the Rangers are heading to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Led by Lundqvist’s 35 saves in a second consecutive shutout, and goals from some unlikely sources, the Rangers beat the Capitals 5-0 in an anticlimactic Game 7 Monday night, eliminating Washington for the second year in a row.
By winning a Game 7 on the road for the first time in its history, New York completed its comeback after trailing in the series 2-0 and 3-2 — the latest in Washington’s long history of playoff collapses.
“He was really good, but the team was also good, too. I have to give the team some credit. They played hard in front of him,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said, before making sure everyone knew this: “Henrik is our backbone.”
The last NHL goalie with shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of a series was Detroit’s Dominik Hasek in 2002 against Colorado, according to STATS LLC.
Lundqvist, Ovechkin said, did an “unbelievable job; he makes incredible saves.”
Sixth-seeded New York faces the No. 4 Boston Bruins in the second round.
Arron Asham put New York ahead Monday in the first period, before Taylor Pyatt and Michael Del Zotto made it 3-0 early in the second on goals 2:10 apart. Ryan Callahan added a goal 13 seconds into the third period, and when Mats Zuccarello scored with about 13 1/2 minutes remaining, thousands of red-clad fans streamed to the exits.
Soon after, when Lundqvist fell forward to smother a puck, chants of “Hen-reeek! Hen-reeek!” from the no-longer-outnumbered Rangers supporters rose in the arena.
Asked why his team couldn’t score in the final two games, Capitals forward Troy Brouwer replied: “Henrik Lundqvist. Plain and simple.”
From the moment Mike Ribeiro’s overtime goal gave Washington a Game 5 victory, Lundqvist was simply superb.
The Swede stopped all 62 shots he faced in Games 6 and 7, showing exactly why he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie last season and is a finalist this season.
“In a game like this, obviously you’re looking for a great start. I thought we set the tone in the first. You just need a couple of good bounces and we got them tonight. A couple of big goals for us,” Lundqvist said. “When we scored the fourth one, I thought, ’OK, we got this.’ As long as it’s three, you never know with (the Capitals). They have so much skill, they can turn it around quickly.”
But Washington’s offence, led by two-time MVP Ovechkin, managed to score 12 goals the entire series — and zero over the final six periods.
Indeed, Ovechkin was held without a point in Games 3-7. The Russian wing led the NHL with 32 goals but he heads into the off-season after the longest playoff point drought of his career. He had a goal in Game 1, an assist in Game 2, and that was it.
Ovechkin delivered some big hits early in Game 7, but he was credited with only one shot by the end of the second period, which closed with some boos from the red-clad spectators in the stands.
New York’s top scorer in the regular season, Rick Nash, didn’t have a goal against Washington, but the Rangers found other players to pick up the slack.
While Callahan did have 16 goals this season, the other four Rangers who put pucks past Braden Holtby combined for a total of only 14.
The Rangers-Capitals finale began only a little more than 24 hours after the shoving- and wrestling-filled end of Game 6, which New York won 1-0 on Derick Brassard’s second-period goal and Lundqvist’s seventh career post-season shutout. That, of course, was played at Madison Square Garden, continuing the pattern of the home team winning each of the first six games of the series.
That ended emphatically Monday, in a Game 7 similarly anticlimactic to Washington’s 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in 2009.
Since the start of the 2008 playoffs — when Washington’s core of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green made their post-season debuts — the Capitals have appeared in nine series, and this was the seventh to last the full seven games.
They’re now 2-5 in those, and Ovechkin and Co. have never been beyond the second round. Going further back, to 1985, the Capitals have lost nine series in which the club led either 2-0 or 3-1.
Not much they could do with the way Lundqvist performed, helping New York reverse a little bit of playoff misery of its own: Until Monday, the Rangers were 0-5 in Game 7s on the road.