Game six of the Eastern Conference Final got underway last night in New York. The Rangers had the opportunity to end the series on their home ice, in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd. No words could explain the importance of this hockey game. Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Rangers held a three games to two lead over the Montreal Canadiens , whom were trying to accomplish what the Rangers, themselves, did against the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two of this year’s playoffs. Would tonight be the end of a heated Original Six matchup that saw, brilliant goaltending, a battle of words, and bitter hatred? Or would the series be prolonged with one last trip to Montreal and a date in the cathedral of hockey history?
After a moving rendition of the Canadian and United States national anthems by John Amirante, the crowd was at its highest peak. With the puck drop, the first twenty minutes got underway.
As we had seen with Montreal in the opening minutes of the previous games, the Rangers tried to dictate the pace of play, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, and being aggressive to the puck.
The game’s first penalty was called on Canadiens forward Brian Gionta for goalie interference at 15:10 of the period. A possible high stick penalty was missed on Gionta by the Rangers defense. Unfortunately, the Rangers were not able to take advantage of the man-advantage, as the Canadiens were successful in killing the penalty.
At the half way point of the period, the Rangers were determined to play with urgency and aggressiveness, cornerstones of the Rangers identity. There was definitely jump in their step and the team looked engaged.
A frantic pace of play ensued on both ends of the ice. Plenty of hits, turnovers, puck penetration, and mad scrambling in front of both goaltenders were witnessed till commercial break at 3:40 of the period.
At the one minute mark, the Rangers Marc Staal was called for interference on Canadiens Tomas Plekanec. The Canadiens received their first power play, which will be carried over to the second period as the clock reached zero.As the second period got underway, the Canadiens had one minute of power play left over from the previous period. The Rangers penalty kill did their job and yielded no goals. The Canadiens’ PK Subban was called for tripping Rangers forward Brad Richards and the team received their second power play. Rangers were able to put good pressure on the Canadiens. Despite not scoring, the team had some good looks on Dustin Tokarski, including a near scoring chance that hit one of the side posts. The Rangers received their third power play of the game, courtesy of Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov. As time expired on the man-advantage, the Rangers could not capitalize. Shortly after, a near goal by the Canadiens was stumped by Henrik Lundqvist, as he did his best impression of, dare I say it, Martin Brodeur. The puck came off the stick of Thomas Vanek and deflected of a Rangers player. It bounced up, and Lundqvist did a 180 to keep the puck out of the net. At 1:53 of the period, the tie was broken. The fourth line of the Rangers came through again. Dominic Moore took a feed from Brian Boyle out in front of the Canadiens’ net, and threw a wrist shot on goal to beat Dustin Koharski’s blocker side. An assist was also credited to Ryan McDonagh. A penalty was called on Rangers forward Brad Richards for hooking of Thomas Vanek. And just like the end of the first period, the Canadiens found themselves on the power play. The second stanza ended with the Rangers heading into the lockeroom with a 1-0 lead.
Twenty minutes were left in the game for both teams, with different outlooks. For the Rangers, it was win and move onto a Stanley Cup berth, for the first time in 20 years. For the Canadiens, it was win to live another game, or their season was over. The Canadiens had over 90 seconds on the man-advantage. However, the Rangers penalty kill remained perfect for the night, not allowing a goal. The crowd at Madison Square Garden wasn’t quiet tonight. The boys gave us somethingto cheer for. From the end of the Canadiens’ power play to commercial break at 07:54 of the period, the Rangers out hustled and placed a defensive stamp on any scoring opportunity Montreal tried to generate. A slashing penalty was awarded to former Ranger Brandon Prust on a play at center ice. Would the Rangers be able to score on their fourth power play and extend their lead? The answer would be no, but 3:37 were left in the game. As time continued to trickle down, the Rangers were not content with playing defensive hockey. They kept the pressure on the Canadiens and wanted to end the right way. With two minutes left, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien pulled Dustin Tokarski for the extra man. The barrage of shots on goal by Montreal commenced as the puck went left to right. At one point, Henrik Lundqvist was seen head butting a puck off a one-timer, out of play. This was his time to shine. He has been playing for this moment his whole career.
As the scoreboard read 0:00, the Rangers punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. A season that started in doubts and animosity, ends with joy, happiness and relief. Twenty years in the making, this moment could not be taken away by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Tonight, the New York Rangers are the 2014 Eastern Conference Champions!