With a gritty third period, the Rangers protected a one-goal lead against a furious push by the Senators Thursday night and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals by winning Game 7, 2-1, in an electric atmosphere at the Garden.
The top-seeded Rangers, who were on the brink of elimination after a Game 5 loss, will face the seventh-seeded Capitals in the conference semifinals.
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The Rangers outscored eighth-seeded Ottawa 14-13 in the series, with five of the games decided by one goal and the other two by two goals.
Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers withstood tremendous pressure, with the goalie making nine of his 26 saves in the final period.
"We've been in that situation in the third period a lot this year," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "There's a lot more on the line but you can't change the way you play, and that's getting pucks in, getting pucks out, blocking shots."
The result was in doubt until the final 37 seconds, when Sergei Gonchar tripped Carl Hagelin, who was about to head toward an empty net and score.
"It was a great feeling to end the series like this, with a total team effort," Lundqvist said.
Although Marc Staal and Dan Girardi scored for the Rangers, perhaps the most impressive skater in blue was rookie Chris Kreider, who played 18:21 and more like a veteran than a 20-year-old with only five games under his belt.
"For a young guy, he talks a ton out there, and with his size, he fits in with Step [Derek Stepan] and me," Callahan said. "It's going to be scary to watch him in a couple years."
The Rangers scored both of their goals in the second period.
With the game scoreless early in the period, Kreider slid to dislodge the puck from Nick Foligno near the blue line. Jared Cowen tried to check Callahan, who broke in and dropped the puck to Stepan, who slid a tape-to-tape pass to Marc Staal, who joined the rush and scored from 16 feet at 4:46. "Kreids comes over and makes a big play and then Cally makes a nice little dump pass to me," Stepan said. "When I looked up, I figured it had to be a defenseman."
It was Staal's first goal of the series and first since Feb. 24.
Girardi extended the lead at 9:04. Brandon Dubinsky brought the puck in and three Senators went toward him, leaving Girardi all alone in front to beat Craig Anderson from 13 feet for his first postseason goal. The Garden crowd even stopped the profane chanting directed toward Chris Neil for a minute to roar its approval.
But the Senators, who came back all series, cut the lead to one. Daniel Alfredsson's one-timer from the left point on the power play at 11:34 with Michael Del Zotto in the box for a cross-check made it 2-1. Lundqvist, who didn't move on the low stick-side shot, appeared to be screened.
The Rangers steeled themselves after that, and Lundqvist recalled the confidence they had. "After we lost at home [in Game 5], Torts said everything happens for a reason; we just need to be a little tougher on ourselves," Lundqvist said of coach John Tortorella. "And we win and we come back here, that was just going to make us stronger."
Early on in the fast-paced first period, the Rangers had the momentum and the edge in shots, but Anderson stopped them all. He stopped Callahan from the left circle and then Hagelin on the rebound. He then turned away Marian Gaborik on a two-on-one.
But the best opportunity came when Brandon Prust checked Anderson behind the net and Anderson was slow to get up and get back to the crease, as Girardi's long shot went wide. Just before that, Lundqvist made a stick save and the puck fluttered over the top of the net. At 6:44, Lundqvist slid to the left post to deny Milan Michalek.
"I knew we were going to come out hard," Callahan said. "We were confident; we just wanted to make sure we built on that. Then they're making the last surge. They threw everything at us. We're going to continue to have to do that."