True to form, Rangers' early lead proves enough
In a series in which the team that scored first won every game, the first goal of Game 7 characteristically meant everything.
It was the New York Rangers who scored it — and it was the Rangers who moved on to the Eastern Conference final.
The Penguins played a solid first period Tuesday, but New York took advantage of a rare breakdown. Brian Boyle's goal 5 1⁄2 minutes into the game gave the Rangers the lead. They never trailed and won 2-1 in the deciding game of the second-round series.
“When we get the lead, we can sit back a little bit and wait for their mistakes and then go,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “And we did a really good job of that.”
Boyle finished a pretty transition passing sequence with fellow forwards Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore, beating goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a shot between Fleury's legs while alone just above the top of the crease.
The play began on a poor keep-in at the right point by Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen that led to an odd-man rush. Niskanen then took himself out of the play on an attempted hit at the blue line.
“I fanned at the blue line. They got a 4-on-2 out of it,” said Niskanen, whose penalty also led to the Rangers' other goal. “So we're down 1-0.”
Just like Games 5 and 6. But unlike Friday and Sunday, the Penguins didn't wilt. They allowed the second goal during each of those two games and ended up losing both in rather listless fashion.
Still, the damage was done as Lundqvist was at the top of his game. Jussi Jokinen beat him 4 minutes, 15 seconds into the second period when he was shoved to the ice and the puck came to him while wide open low in the right-wing circle.
But that would be one of only three goals Lundqvist allowed over the final 185:56 of the series.
Brad Richards' power-play goal 3:41 later proved to be the winner.
The Penguins were generating chances but could not beat Lundqvist, a four-time Vezina Trophy finalist.
“It's not easy,” said Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi of allowing the first goal. “You're playing from behind against a sound defensive hockey team with a great goaltender. You're putting yourself in a hole.”
Just like the Penguins had during almost all of Games 5 and 6. Over the final three games, the Penguins did not hold a lead. The Rangers led for 157:44; the score was tied for only 22:16.
That's how the Rangers are built to play. And it all begins with that first goal.