The New York Rangers stormed back to tie their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Washington Capitals in Sunday’s 4-3 nail-biting victory to force a Game 7, and history predicts New York will advance.
Powered by left wing Chris Kreider’s two first-period goals and goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist’s 42 saves, the Rangers evened the series after falling behind 3-1. Now they’ll face a Capitals squad that’s 4-9 all-time in Game 7s.
However, Washington forward Alex Ovechkin, who’s recorded four goals and four assists during the postseason, guaranteed his team a victory.
"We're going to come back and win the series," the Russian superstar told reporters after Game 6. "We're going to play our game, and we're going to come back and we're going to play Montreal or Tampa."
The Rangers will host Game 7 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. During the regular season, the Rangers owned a 25-11-5 record at the Garden and have a 4-2 home record in the playoffs.
The Capitals already proved history wrong by eliminating the Islanders with a 2-1 Game 7 win in the first round, but New York’s been here before and could be the first team to complete a 3-1 come back in consecutive seasons.
Last year, the Rangers were down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semis only to rip off three straight wins in route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The key to that stretch was Lundqvist, who allowed three total goals in the final three games of the series and his save percentage never dipped below .969. Unfortunately for the Rangers, this year Lundqvist has battled injuries and admitted after Game 6 to a serious bout with fatigue.
“I’m exhausted,” Lundqvist told reporters. “I was tired going into the third period already, so I tried to feel the energy. With five minutes left, I was not ready for the season to be over, so I was trying to find reasons to stay confident.
“It was by far the toughest game of the playoffs for me to play.”
The 33-year-old veteran has actually played better in this series, notching a .941 save percentage, and in the Rangers three losses he hasn’t allowed more than two goals.
On offense, the Rangers loaded attack hasn’t quite looked the same as it did during the regular season, but in the last games they’ve managed to break through. Also responsible avoiding elimination with a goal in the last 1:41 in Game 5 to force overtime, Krieder’s effort in Game 6 tied him with points leader center Derrick Brassard with five goals, and Rick Nash got on the board for the first time since Game 2 of the first round.
The Caps' exceptional defense that held New York two combined goals in Games 1, 3, and 4 has wilted in the last two matchups, succumbing to a Rangers offense that’s using finesse against their formidable power upfront.
But Washington nearly sent the Rangers packing in Games 5 and 6, using their sheer brute force at forward with Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and right wing Joel Ward chipping away at Lundqvist with second-chance opportunities.
Kuznetsov picked up his fifth goal of the postseason and points leader Ward his third about halfway through the third period in Game 6, almost completing a comeback of their own.
“We have to play that way,” Ovechkin said. “You can see, they don’t want to play that game. We knew that. Obviously as soon as we put the puck deep, hit their D, they afraid, because we big, we strong and you can see how we score goals.”
Meanwhile, Washington will hope goalie Braden Holtby regains his form. The 25-year-old allowed just three goals over a stretch of about 190 minutes, but was battered by the Rangers in Game 6.
Start Time: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Prediction: New York over Washington, 3-2