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(Tuesday, May 13th)
Final Score: NY Rangers 2, Pittsburgh 1
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Brad Richards netted the winning score in the second period, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 35 shots, and the New York Rangers battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to a 2-1 decision in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Lundqvist set an NHL record by winning each of his last five Game 7s, and improved to 10-2 all-time in elimination games thanks to a 1.32 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in that span. The Blueshirts also made team history by erasing years of frustration in winning a series when trailing three games to one.
"Our goaltender took his game to another level," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said in what may be the understatement of the current decade. "He was the difference in the game."
Brian Boyle recorded the other score for the Rangers, who advance to the conference finals against the winner of the Bruins-Canadiens Game 7 scheduled for Wednesday night in Boston.
Jussi Jokinen supplied the sole offense and Marc-Andre Fleury made just 18 saves for the Penguins, who have dropped seven of their nine terminal contests in best-of-seven series on home ice.
"When you go up 3-1, they played their best game in Game 5," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "Not being able to come up with the knockout punch there in Game 5, you look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series."
Pittsburgh, which also squandered a 3-1 advantage against Tampa Bay three years ago in the opening round, was eliminated by a lower-seeded team for the fifth straight season.
The Rangers moved ahead to stay during a tripping minor to Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen. Richards alertly followed up a centering feed from Martin St. Louis -- who was stationed along the goal line to the right of Fleury -- and converted from the slot with 7:56 played in the second.
Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup recipient along with St. Louis in Tampa Bay, has won all seven Game 7s in his career, totaling two goals and three assists.
It was all Lundqvist from there.
Chris Kunitz unleashed a backhander in tight as the clock ticked under six minutes left in the middle frame, but the Swedish Olympian was equal. James Neal then shot a rolling puck into Lundqvist's chest with just over two minutes left despite being left alone in the slot.
Lundqvist glided across his crease to glove down a left-circle drive from Pens defenseman Paul Martin just over seven minutes into the third period.
Pittsburgh escaped disaster with eight minutes gone, as St. Louis was unable to poke a loose puck through Fleury's legs after the host netminder lost control, then fired high off a 2-on-1 break seconds later.
A frantic sequence around the Rangers' crease with 5 1/2 minutes to play saw several Pens' shots blocked and Lundqvist ultimately stopping Kris Letang and Martin on consecutive chances through the scrum.
"Those saves with five minutes to go, three or four in a row, those are the biggest saves I've seen him make I think since I've been here," offered New York defenseman Marc Staal. "We needed a big save there, and he made a bunch. It's a good feeling knowing he's back there for you, competing like he does."
Fleury was summoned to the bench with 1:16 left in regulation, but the visitors had the better of the chances on the vacant net.
"I knew we probably weren't going to score three or four in third period, but certainly one goal is not out of the realm of possibility," Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We threw a lot of rubber at him, we tried it the right way. We had guys diving and putting their faces into the crease trying to will it into the net."
The Rangers opened the scoring just 5:25 into the contest, as Dominic Moore dished over to Boyle during a 3-on-1 break and the Boston College product slid the puck through Fleury from the left side. Derek Dorsett set up the break, when he drew a Pens defender to him along the left-wing boards inside the blue line before dishing off to Moore on the rush.
Fleury then had to be quick to close off his pads several minutes later on a wrister by St. Louis from below the circles.
Lundqvist appeared ready to do his part, when he lunged across his crease from right to left to deny a Letang chance with six minutes left in the opening period.
New York was inches away from taking a two-goal edge in the first minute of the second period, but Benoit Pouliot rang a shot off the crossbar from the slot. The Pens responded to tie a short time later.
In a 2-on-2, Neal and Evgeni Malkin controlled the puck behind the New York net, with the latter dishing back to Olli Maatta for a point shot. The rebound popped out to Jokinen on the right side for the Pens' initial tally at 4:15.
"It's disappointing," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had a goal and two assists in the series. "Tonight was one of our better games. We worked hard and generated some good chances. Unfortunately we didn't find a way to win."
Lundqvist joined Ed Belfour (5), Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur (6) as the only goaltenders in NHL history to win at least five career Game 7s ... The team which scored first ended up a perfect 7-0 in this series ... The Rangers upped their Game 7 record to 8-5 all-time, with five straight victories, and improved to 2-5 in such games on the road ... The Penguins fell to 7-7 all-time in Game 7s, having dropped three in a row since taking the final contest in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals in Detroit ... Pittsburgh's last Game 7 win on friendly ice was a 3-0 decision against the Washington Capitals to close out the Eastern quarterfinals on May 18, 1995 ... Jokinen finished with a team-best seven goals, while Malkin led the Pens with 14 points (6G, 8A) during this postseason.
05/13 23:09:35 ET