PITTSBURGH – New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault had trouble finding the words to describe goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“He’s OK,” Vigneault said finally with a small shake of his head.
Except that is, in Game 7s. In Game 7s, Lundqvist is unbeatable.
And so are the Rangers.
Frustrating Sidney Crosby and the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins one final time, Lundqvist made 35 saves to lift New York to a 2-1 win on Tuesday night and give his resilient team an unlikely spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I was so tired at the end,” Lundqvist said after setting an NHL record with his fifth straight Game 7 triumph. “But it was just a great feeling when you know it’s a done deal and we did it.”
Brian Boyle and Brad Richards scored for New York, which rallied from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in the franchise’s 88-year history.
The Rangers did it behind Lundqvist, who stopped 102 of the final 105 shots he faced over the final three games as New York advanced to the conference finals for the second time in three years.
The three-time All-Star is 10-2 when facing elimination.
He was at his best during a mad scramble in front of the Rangers’ net with just over 5 minutes left, when he turned aside three shots from three different angles in a matter of seconds to preserve a one-goal lead.
“He was OK with guys being on top of him as long as we didn’t take penalties,” New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He fought through screens, fought for loose pucks. He was incredible.”
The Rangers will play the winner of the Bruins-Canadiens series in the conference finals. That series is tied 3-3 and Game 7 is Wednesday night in Boston.
Jussi Jokinen scored his team-high seventh goal of the postseason for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves for the Penguins, who outshot New York 36-20, but were outscored 10-3 over the final three games.
Pittsburgh fell to 2-7 all time at home in Game 7s, including three such losses in the past five seasons.
This one might have been the most painful for the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and coach Dan Bylsma that seemed pointed toward a dynasty after winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.
Crosby, who led the league in scoring and is an MVP finalist, managed just one goal in 13 playoffs games since then.
Blackhawks 2, Wild 1
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Erik Haula sat in front of his locker with a blank stare on his face, unable to come to grips with the outcome.
Zach Parise searched for words to describe the gut-wrenching finish.
Ilya Bryzgalov sunk to his knees on the ice and wondered how in the world that just happened.
The Wild gave the defending Stanley Cup champions their best shot, only to watch an awkward bounce help the Blackhawks end a heart-pounding series.
Patrick Kane’s goal at 9:42 of overtime lifted the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory over the Wild in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night, eliminating Minnesota in front of its charged-up home fans.
“I’m sure that goal will be in the back of my head for a long time,” Haula said. “It’s a horrible way to end it.”
The Wild peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford with 35 shots, but Haula’s breakaway in the second period was the only one that got through. It was Minnesota’s first loss in six postseason home games.