New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) – Derek Stepan helped the Rangers book their second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals in dramatic fashion.
Stepan scored with 8:36 left in overtime to propel New York to a 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals in the semifinal round.
Following an offensive zone faceoff win by New York, Dan Girardi fired a shot from the blue line. Braden Holtby made the initial stop, but Stepan was perfectly positioned at the left side of the net, where he wristed home the rebound past the falling Washington netminder for the historic win.
“It was pretty much a hard-fought series. Both teams went back and forth, momentum swings,” Stepan said. “For most of overtime they had the puck and we just found a way to stick with it. Henrik (Lundqvist) made some big saves and we were able to get a fortunate bounce.”
New York improved to 7-0 all-time at Madison Square Garden in Game 7s and became the first team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit two seasons in a row.
The Blueshirts have also won six straight Game 7s, tying the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins for the NHL record, and 10 straight games when facing elimination at home, dating back to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008 against Pittsburgh.
Kevin Hayes also scored and Lundqvist made 35 saves in a spectacular performance to win his sixth straight Game 7 for the Rangers, who will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s Game 1.
“It’s such a great feeling when you see the puck go in,” said Lundqvist. “You need each other to have success. It’s a great feeling when we pull it off like this. Coming from behind like we did, you know that’s special.”
Alex Ovechkin, the confident Washington captain who guaranteed his team a victory prior to the game, provided his team’s lone goal. Holtby stopped 37 shots in defeat.
“We went after the New York Rangers in their own barn and almost pulled it off,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said. “I said to them all year defeat is not your undertaker and should be your teacher. We learned a lot, we had some young kids that learned a lot and we got some great veterans. You’re going to see the Washington Capitals back here again.”
Hayes tied the game 6:22 into the middle stanza. J.T. Miller skated to the right circle and sent a slap pass down to the left side of the net, where Hayes tapped it past Holtby.
Both teams had solid chances to start the third. Rick Nash’s slick deflection just missed the net and Evgeny Kuznetsov was unable to convert on a backhander off an odd-man rush at the other end.
With just over two minutes left in regulation, Ryan McDonagh took a cross-ice pass from Hayes and fired a shot on net from the slot, but Holtby calmly brushed it aside to send the game into overtime.
The Capitals came out with an offensive barrage in the first five minutes of the extra session. Carl Hagelin answered back for the Rangers by rushing into the offensive zone and firing a wrister on net, but Holtby quickly gloved it.
Just over four minutes into the game, Andre Burakovsky raced up the left wing and fired a shot. Jay Beagle whacked the rebound on net, but Lundqvist slid across to deny him.
Following a Capitals faceoff win, Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck along the boards to Marcus Johansson at the left circle. Johansson sent a perfect backhanded saucer pass into the slot, where a cutting Ovechkin wristed a shot past Lundqvist’s glove for the game’s first goal at 12:50 of the first period.
Nash had a golden opportunity to tie the game on the penalty kill as he broke in the offensive zone all alone on a breakaway, but Holtby turned aside his Nash’s low backhander with a pad stop.
The Rangers continued to threaten in the second as Derick Brassard’s slap shot rang off the left post on the power play just over two minutes into the frame.
Lundqvist improved to 6-1 in Game 7s, tying Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most wins in NHL history … New York won its first overtime Game 7 since Stephane Matteau scored in double overtime for a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on May 27, 1994 … The Rangers’ last 14 playoff games have been decided by one goal, an NHL record … New York has not allowed a power-play goal in six games, killing off 13 straight man advantages … Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle left the game midway through the third after taking a hit to the head from Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik along the boards … Washington fell to 0-5 in Games 7s when leading a series 3-1 … The familiar foes were meeting in a Game 7 for the fourth time since 2009.