Rangers and Devils Advance After Game 7 Wins
The top-seeded New York Rangers and the No. 6 seed New Jersey Devils both completed come-from-behind series win by capturing the decisive Game 7 of their respective Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
At Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist, who was named Vezina Trophy finalist a day before, lived up to the nomination with as superb Game 7, making 26 saves in the Rangers' 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
New York narrowly avoided the fate of fellow top seed Vancouver Canucks by taking the last two of this quarterfinal series after a Game 5 loss had the team facing elimination.
Rangers defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi stepped up and made key contributions, with Staal snapping a scoreless tie a 4:46 in the second off a spectacular hustle play by newcomer Chris Kreider, whose first NHL goal was the winner in Game 6 Monday.
Kreider, who signed an entry-level deal with the team just weeks ago, forced a turnover over Sens forward Nick Foligno and got the puck into the Ottawa end. With the Rangers surging, the puck came to center Derek Stepan's control before it was sent to Staal for his first goal of the series.
The Rangers, who faced the prospect of a first-round exit for its third consecutive postseason, took a 2-0 lead in the middle frame after Girardi tallied from the slot at 9:04 of the period.
The Senators, who were trying to become the 11th No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 since the current playoff format began in 1994, cut the Rangers' lead in half, 2-1 at 11:34 of the second courtesy of Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was playing his second game back from concussion.
That goal by Alfredsson off a power-play was his second goal of the playoffs. Ottawa was 1-for-2 on the man advantage while New York was 0-for-3.
On Thursday, the Senators managed to control the play in their offensive zone for long stretches of time, but after Alfredsson got one past Lundqvist, the Rangers netminder locked it down the rest of the way.
Lundqvist, 30, who had been nominated for the Vezina Trophy in his first three seasons in the NHL and placed runner-up all three times, finished the second period having thwarted 17 shots through the first 40 minutes.
It marked the first time since 2008 that the Rangers advanced past the opening round.
The win also moved New York to 4-0 all-time in seventh games at MSG. The Rangers were 3-5 all-time in Game 7s entering Thursday night.
In the conference semifinals, the Rangers will clash with the Washington Capitals Saturday in New York. The No. 7 seed Caps advanced after winning Game 7 of their series against the second-seeded defending Stanley Cup champ Boston Bruins Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Devils moved into the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2007 after winning consecutive do-or-die overtime contests against the Florida Panthers.
2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Defined by OT
Devils rookie center Adam Henrique had a sterling outing Thursday night, when he scored his first two career playoff goals, including the winner 3:47 in the second overtime as New Jersey toppled the third-seeded Panthers 3-2 in the decisive Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal at BankAtlantic Center.
Stephen Gionta tallied the other goal in regulation for New Jersey, which received a 43-save effort for Martin Brodeur.
Gionta's goal at 9:15 of the second period gave the Devils a 2-0 lead, but Florida, which was attempting to capture its first playoff series since 1996, pulled even in the third period with power-play goals from Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc.
Jose Theodore, who shut out the Devils in Game 5, was back between the pipes for Florida after missing Tuesday's tilt due to a lower-body injury and posted 33 saves in defeat.
The Devils have won their first winner-take-all contest for the first time since 2003, when they made a run for their third Stanley Cup.
It was also the first time since the 2007 quarterfinals that back-to-back postseason victories were posted by the Devils, who will try to build on the momentum when face the fifth-seeded Flyers Sunday in Philadelphia.
The Flyers eliminated the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Defined by OT
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- Staal Overtime Goal Lifts Rangers over Capitals in Game 5
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- Rangers and Devils Advance After Game 7 Wins
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