The New York Rangers are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their 1994 Stanley Cup the only way they knew how.
Dominic Moore with 1:53 left in the second period and Henrik Lundqvist made 18 saves for the shutout as the New York Rangers edged the Montreal Canadiens, 1-0, to clinch the Eastern Conference final four games to two at Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
It is the Rangers first trip to the Stanley Cup final since 1994, when they won their first championship since 1940. New York will face the winner of the Western Conference final between defending champion Chicago and Los Angeles. The Kings lead the best-of-seven series, three games to two, with game six at 9 p.m. Friday at Staples Center.
The Stanley Cup final will start Tuesday at the winner of the Western Conference final series. Both the Kings and the Blackhawks had more regular season points than the Rangers.
Moore beat Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski after he converted a pass from Brian Boyle on cycle-play to give the Rangers the only goal of the game.
Tokarski, who relieved all-star netminder Carey Price after an injury in the series opener, made 30 saves and frustrated the Rangers most of the night before Moore’s game-winning tally.
Montreal had its best chance to get on the board, but Lundqvist denied Thomas Vanek from giving the Habs the lead just under five minutes to go in the second period after a deflection off of Ranger defensemen Dan Girardi.
Lundqvist bounced back from his worst performance of the postseason where he was pulled early in the second period of game five after giving up four goals in an eventual 7-4 loss in Montreal. Lundqvist had been 0-5 since 2009 in non-Game 7 clinching games.
The Rangers harried the Canadiens all night with their forecheck and kept them in Montreal’s zone most of the night. New York couldn’t get that critical second goal, but Lundqvist and the Ranger defense did just enough to clinch the Prince of Wales Trophy for the first time since 94.
Montreal went 0-for-2 on the power play and could not cash in when Vanek drew a hooking call with 12.9 seconds to go in the second. The Habs’ power play went a dismal 2-for-23 for the six-game series.
The Canadiens’ loss means that Canada will have its Stanley Cup drought extend to 21 years. Montreal was the last team from north of the border to hoist the nearly 40-pound trophy in 1993, when it defeated Los Angeles four games to one.
New York had to make a lineup change as former Montreal defenseman Raphael Diaz was in for the suspended John Moore. Montreal got former Ranger Brandon Prust back, who was suspended two games after breaking Ranger forward Derek Stepan’s jaw in game three. Prust played for Dale Weise, who was injured during game.
It took both teams featured in the Eastern Conference Finals seven games to finish off their second-round opponents, but the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are now on a collision path. From that collision, only one can survive and move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both teams are “Original Six” teams that have unique and storied histories, which will make the matchup that much more interesting to watch.
How the Canadiens Got Here: After knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, the Canadiens surprised a lot of people by pushing the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins to seven games. Once in Game 7 on the road, the Canadiens came in waves and knocked Boston out of the playoffs with a dominating 3-1 win. Even though they’ve won the most Stanley Cups in NHL history with 24, the Habs haven’t won the league’s championship since 1992-93, which was the last time any Canadian team won the Cup.
How the Rangers Got Here: Out of the playoffs relatively early in recent memory, the Rangers have finally put everything together and turned that into a deep playoff run. They knocked off the disjointed Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 in Pittsburgh to advance, erasing a previous 3-1 series deficit. Rallying around star winger Martin St. Louis, who unexpectedly lost his mother a night before Game 5, the team has played inspired hockey. Inspired play like they’ve shown can go a long way toward winning the Stanley Cup.
Star Power: Rangers. This is a close one, but the stars the Rangers have playing defense for them tip the scales in their favor slightly. Players like Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh give them a chance to win on any given night. With players like Brian Gionta, Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere and Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens have a more talented offensive force, but overall the slight edge goes to New York.
Depth: Canadiens. Due to the many names mentioned above, the Canadiens are the deeper team in this series. They come in waves on offense and can score in virtually any situation. Montreal appears to be clicking at the right time after knocking off Boston and could be tough to slow down, especially on the offensive end. New York is still very deep, capable of rolling three lines consistently, but they aren’t looking as electric on the offensive end of the ice as the Canadiens are.
Goaltending: Rangers. This series is going to feature two top-notch and red-hot goalies in Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, but the Rangers have the slight advantage between the pipes. Already playing in two Game 7s these playoffs, Lundqvist has shown he’s one of the most clutch goalies in the league, saving 93.1 percent of shots that have come his way these playoffs. In addition, he’s only allowed two goals on 64 shots in two Game 7s these playoffs for an insane save percentage of 96.9. Based on talent alone, Price and Lundqvist are relatively even, but the extra gear Lundqvist goes into when the stakes are at their highest give the Rangers the edge in this category.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
This has the potential to be one of the better NHL playoff series in recent memory with both teams clicking and appearing they could be teams of destiny. One team has to go home after this round and if it goes down to the wire like it should, Lundqvist will step up in another Game 7 and the Rangers will rally around Martin St. Louis en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.