Sometimes the harder the task, the greater the reward.
To close out a tight first-round playoff series against the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins, with all five games decided by a goal, it took a second consecutive 2-1 overtime win by the Rangers to eliminate Pittsburgh on Friday night and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The snapshot to end the series was this: Carl Hagelin lying on his stomach on the Madison Square Garden ice after skating to the right faceoff circle and wristing a shot inside the near post past Marc-Andre Fleury at 10:52 of overtime. It was the series winner and the fourth game won by the Rangers by a score of 2-1.
"I can't describe [the feeling]," the speedy Swedish left wing said. "I had goose bumps. I heard the crowd getting louder and louder and then Dom [Moore] was yelling in my ear. One of the happiest moments of my life."
Hagelin's deciding goal came a game after Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead with an overtime goal in Pittsburgh in Game 4.
With the score tied at 1 after regulation -- mostly because of the superb play of Fleury, who made 34 saves, and Henrik Lundqvist, who made 37 -- Moore battled for the puck in the corner of the Penguins' zone.
"I didn't do much that shift until I saw Dom was in trouble," Hagelin recalled. "I went behind there to pick up the puck . . . I took a shot and somehow it went in."
The Rangers will face either the Islanders or Capitals in the second round, starting with two games at home sometime next week. First they will have the weekend off. "These playoffs are a battle of survival," coach Alain Vigneault said.
"This is the first time in my career we've been able to finish in five [games]," first-year captain Ryan McDonagh said. "It's a good feeling to close it out at home, first and foremost. Now we get some time to rest and recover."
Late in the first period, Mats Zuccarello was in front of the net when he was struck on the left side of the head, perhaps in the jaw, by McDonagh's shot. He first went to the bench, then the dressing room, and did not return. So the Rangers played the rest of the game rotating 11 forwards. Vigneault said Zuccarello was being evaluated and thought he would be "all right."
For the fourth time in the series, the Rangers took a first-period lead, this time on the power play, which had been 2-for-17. With Nick Spaling in the box for tripping Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle's high shot hit Fleury in the chest and dropped down. Derek Stepan was at the doorstep and kicked the puck to his right, onto his stick, and didn't miss the tap-in at 4:23. It was Stepan's second goal of the series.
The desperate Penguins, who made the playoffs on the final day of the season, turned up the pressure in the second period and finally tied the score late. After Steve Downie's close-in shot bounced off Lundqvist, it caromed off the diving Spaling's arm and went just inside the far post with 2:37 left. A video review by the NHL determined that the goal was scored in "a legal fashion."
After Crosby and J.T. Miller hit the crossbar in the third, the stage was set for the Rangers, who last won a series in overtime in 1997 on Adam Graves' wraparound against the Devils' Martin Brodeur in the second round.
Lundqvist felt the Rangers' ability to control Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was a key.
"For the most part, we did a great job of shutting them down," he said. "That's a huge part of our winning the series."
Hagelin spoke of character.
"I think any time you can win in overtime twice," Hagelin said, "it shows that your team has a lot of character. A lot of guys in here are willing to go the extra step to win."