NEW YORK – Henrik Lundqvist was perfect on a night he needed to be.
After one of the toughest games of his career, the New York goalie bounced back with a performance that put the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals.
Lundqvist wasn’t overly busy in stopping all 18 shots that came his way, but there was no margin for error as Dominic Moore’s second-period goal was the only offense in New York’s 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Rangers, who spent parts of the season as a question mark to make the playoffs, are in the finals for the first time since winning the title 20 years ago.
“We played so well the entire game,” Lundqvist said. “For me it was more about just being focused on the shots they had.”
Lundqvist and the Rangers shook off a 7-4 loss on Tuesday night in Montreal when they had their first chance to end the Eastern Conference finals.
Lundqvist quickly grew tired of the questions about that poor night, when he was yanked after allowing four goals in less than two periods. Now he is in the finals for the first time in his nine-year career.
“It’s been tough,” Lundqvist said. “You have so many highs. You have a few lows where you’re questioning a lot of things, but then you just have to make up your mind, you can’t have any excuses. I don’t think I’ve been more determined to win a hockey game. To put ourselves in a spot where we can play for the Cup is extremely special.”
Lundqvist leaped several times in his crease with his hands raised as streamers were fired off from the rafters at the final buzzer.
“It was just such a great feeling to see how we responded from the last game,” Lundqvist said. “The third period, I think we played our best period of the playoffs. When it mattered the most, the guys really stepped up.”
Lundqvist tied the team record for playoff shutouts with nine.
The Rangers are the first team to advance to the finals after being stretched to seven games in the first two rounds. To celebrate, the Empire State Building was immediately lit up in the team’s red, white and blue.
New York doesn’t have a captain, so assistants Brad Richards, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, were called to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy but didn’t touch it. The whole team joined them and posed for a photo while the Garden rocked with yells of “We Want The Cup!”
The Stanley Cup finals will begin Wednesday at either Chicago or Los Angeles, which leads the Western finals 3-2.
“It’s something you feel good (about), but you have to keep in the back of your mind that this isn’t the ultimate goal,” Richards said. “It’s an amazing achievement to be able to play for the Cup.”
Montreal’s Dustin Tokarski, who replaced injured No. 1 goalie Carey Price after Game 1, was solid in making 31 saves.
“It’s pretty tough to have this opportunity to be a couple wins away from the Stanley Cup finals,” Tokarski said. “I know it’s going to be hard to come by again, but it was a heck of a series.”
Montreal made one final push after Tokarski was pulled for an extra skater with 1:53 left. Lundqvist held off the Canadiens as fans chanted “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”