Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Rangers' motto aside: Don't change ending to THIS series

Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals defends against

Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals defends against Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers in the first period during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers' playoff motto is "Change the Ending," a goal they still are several weeks from achieving.

But Wednesday night it was more than enough to keep the middle exactly as it was last spring.

Faced with a painfully early playoff exit, the Presidents' Trophy winners completed a stunning comeback to oust the Capitals, 2-1, in overtime in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series at the Garden.

In the process they became the first team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series two seasons in a row. They did the same thing in the same round last year to the Penguins.

This time, they not only added to the degree of difficulty by doing it in overtime, but they also survived a near-death experience when they tied Game 5 with a mere 101 seconds remaining in regulation time before winning it in OT.

The Rangers extended their astounding NHL-record streak of 14 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs, dating to last year's Cup Final, and played to their eighth 2-1 final in 12 playoff games this season.

Oh, and they also won their 10th consecutive elimination game at home. And their sixth consecutive Game 7.

So, in summation, the Rangers of the 2010s, and of the Henrik Lundqvist era, are a reliably resilient, clutch group.

"We've been through so many things over the last few years," Lundqvist said. "You learn from it and you appreciate those moments, even though you have to move on and you can't keep stopping.

"But it definitely helps that we've been part of so many different things throughout the years, and in this situation we are confident in this group."

All they lack now is a Stanley Cup. But they are halfway to changing that 2014 ending, when they lost the Cup to the Kings in five games.

Next up for the Blueshirts: the Tampa Bay Lightning, yet another formidable hurdle for a team that has made a habit of leaping over them in recent playoff years.

This is the third time in four years the Rangers have reached the conference finals. The Capitals, meanwhile, flopped again when it counted and still have not reached a conference finals since 1998 and have not reached one in the career of Alex Ovechkin, who delivered a goal in Game 7 but not on his guarantee of a Caps victory.

One more bit of cruelty: Coach Barry Trotz, who never made a conference finals in 15 years in Nashville, now has not made one in one year in Washington.

It was a devastating loss for Capitals fans. Fan No. 1, owner Ted Leonsis, appeared shell-shocked when he got onto a Garden elevator when it was over with family and friends, shaking his head at the turn of events.

The game-winner came 11:24 into overtime, when Keith Yandle fed Dan Girardi, whose blast from inside the blue line was stopped. But the rebound came cleanly to Derek Stepan, who buried it.

"You knew it was going to end like that somehow, either way," Girardi said.

True enough. It was an appropriate finish to what was a highly entertaining, mostly even series.

During the second period, the Garden showed five members of the 1994 Cup-winning team on the video board, including Mark Messier and Mike Richter.

Stephane Matteau was there, too. The last time the Rangers played an overtime in a Game 7 was in the 1994 conference finals, when Matteau won it for them in double overtime over the Devils.

Now he and Stepan have something in common.

The next question is whether Matteau and Stepan will have something in common come mid-June.

New York Sports