Rangers advance to Stanley Cup Final for first time in 20 years
The handshake line was over, the team photos with the Prince of Wales Trophy had been snapped and the crowds poured through the Madison Square Garden exits chanting "We Want the Cup!"
Those chants hadn't been heard for 20 years, since another memorable spring when the Rangers marched through the playoffs and grabbed a piece of history.
After the Rangers' 1-0 win in Game 6 on Thursday night eliminated the Montreal Canadiens and sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, players had time to reflect on both the game and the emotional playoff run.
"It wasn't the goal that put us in the Finals, it was a good team effort from everyone," said veteran center Dominic Moore, who took a terrific pass from Brian Boyle in the slot and beat rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski with 1:53 left in the second period for what turned out to be the series- clinching goal. "Every little play made a difference. It's a big sense of accomplishment here."
Moore's goal, after a terrific shift by the fourth line, was his third of the playoffs. It came shortly after a clutch, acrobatic, spinning save by Henrik Lundqvist with 4:39 left in the second.
Thomas Vanek's backhander hit Dan Girardi's stick and caromed high toward the net. Lundqvist had lost his stick and was down, but he deflected the puck with his blocker and Boyle cleared it out of danger.
"It was game-saving for sure," said Ryan McDonagh, who assisted on Moore's goal and played a team-high 25:27. "Hank was focused the whole game. He was so mentally sharp."
Lundqvist made 18 saves for his ninth career playoff shutout, which tied Mike Richter for the franchise record. It was quite the turnaround from his performance in Game 5 in Montreal on Tuesday night, when he allowed four goals on 19 shots and was pulled in the second period.
For Martin St. Louis, who was traded here on March 5 and whose mother died suddenly on May 8, there was only gratitude.
"It's been a tough year for me; this makes it pretty cool," he said. "Being somewhere for 13, 14 years and to get a chance to play in the Finals with these teammates, who have been nothing but great through my tough time in the past few weeks, it makes it even more special."
The Rangers will face the Western Conference champion -- either the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks -- in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday. The Kings have a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series against the defending Cup champion Blackhawks. Game 6 is in Los Angeles on Friday night.
The Rangers had little breathing room after Moore's goal. Tokarski, who played in the final five games of the series after Carey Price was injured in Game 1, made 31 saves and refused to surrender an insurance goal.
The Rangers outshot the Canadiens 32-18, including 13-5 in the third period.
"It was anxious moments throughout the whole third period," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "But we didn't give them much. It says a lot about our character. We've been through a lot, with Marty's mom [passing] and all. It's just one of those moments you feel really good about the group."
And now they are four wins from hockey's ultimate prize.
"It's unbelievable," said McDonagh, who credited the forwards with swarming and back pressure that didn't allow the Canadiens to get cleanly through the neutral zone. "We battled pretty hard through adversity, suspensions, one guy's [Derek Stepan] got a broken jaw. Not a lot of us have had this opportunity. We know it doesn't come easy and it doesn't come often and we want to seize it."