The New York Rangers are headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994. New York won game six of their Eastern Conference finals 1-0 to beat the Montreal Canadiens and are now waiting to see which of the Western Conference teams they will face. Twenty years ago, New York beat the Vancouver Canucks in a seven game thriller.
The Rangers headed into game six against the Habs having been torn apart in a 7-4 loss in the Bell Centre in Montreal. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after four goals, a move which sparked the team to tie the game, but ultimately they could not withstand the Habs relentless offence or Rene Bourque, who netted a hat-trick. However, Lundqvist is typically stellar in games after which he has been pulled, and that was no different here.
King Henrik was not forced to make a lot of saves, but some of them were spectacular. A twisting acrobatic second period save off a deflection from a shot by Thomas Vanek seemed to spark the Rangers, as three minutes later, Dominic Moore got his third goal of the playoffs after being left alone in front. He was fed a pass from behind the net by Brian Boyle in what would be the only goal of what was a near perfect game for the Broadway Blueshirts. A near perfect effort that booked the ticket that has the New York Rangers headed back to the Stanley Cup finals.
Montreal simply could not find a way past the Swede. They were only able to register 18 shots, their first of the game coming over seven minutes in. In the third period, down 1-0, it took the Habs over nine minutes before they registered a shot. Most of these were seen clearly by Lundqvist as Montreal just did not create any havoc in front of the net. After a stellar game five, the Canadiens just seemed tired and flat.
Perhaps this was because of the Rangers simply smothering the Habs attack, or their fast possession game that kept Montreal off the puck. Perhaps it was fatigue kicking in after a gruelling seven game series against Boston. Or perhaps it was the prospect of knowing that the inspirational Ginette Reno, considered by many in Montreal to be a good luck charm, would not be able to attend a possible game seven. Either way, the Canadiens, who proved a resilient team all year, simply could not find the muster to come back against New York.
None of this can be blamed on the efforts of surprise goalie Dustin Tokarski, though. After Carey Price was hurt by Chris Kreider in game one, Montreal coach Michel Therrien chose to go with the NHL rookie instead of his regular back-up Peter Budaj. Many in Montreal will lament the loss of Price and wonder what might have been, but Tokarski was solid throughout the series and was the Habs best player in the game six loss. This will likely spark questions about Budaj’s future with the club over the summer, but Tokarski’s efforts will be little consolation to the Montreal faithful after a fantastic, but ultimately disappointing playoff run.
The Rangers now wait for the Western Finals to conclude to find out who they will face off against for the Cup. It may be an original six showdown against Chicago, or they could face LA in the battle of America’s two largest and most iconic cities. Regardless, the New York Rangers are headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals, hoping to be the first team not called Blackhawks or Kings to lift the trophy since 2011.
Commentary by Bryan A. Jones