It wasn’t easy, but the best things never are.
The Rangers are heading to the Metropolitan Division finals after beating the Flyers, 2-1, in Game 7 Wednesday night at the Garden.
Dan Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Rangers.
“Now we’re in the middle of it,” Brad Richards said. “This is when it gets real fun.”
The Rangers won the best-of-seven series 4-3, and will advance to face the Penguins starting Friday night. The Penguins beat Columbus in six games in their opening round series.
The Rangers and Penguins split the regular season series, 2-1-1. Pittsburgh finished 13 points ahead of the Rangers in the regular season standings though.
“We’re battle-tested and we’re ready for the next series,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “If you look on paper, Pittsburgh’s probably one of the best teams in the league. They were ahead of us in the regular season, so we’re going to have our hands full there.”
In a series marked by momentum swings, the Rangers’ second period Wednesday night was the reason they advanced. The Rangers outshot the Flyers 18-5, out-attempted them 25-18 and outscored their Turnpike rivals 2-0.
Carcillo, who replaced J.T. Miller on the third line, opened the scoring 3:06 into the second period with his second of the the series to complete a shift in which the Rangers’ speed and forecheck were able to successfully pressure the Flyers in their own end.
Pouliot pushed the advantage to 2-0 8:40 after Carcillo’s goal. Pouliot, whose play in the series up to that point had been marked by three bad penalties in the offensive zone, beat Zac Rinaldo to the low slot before one-timing a Derick Brassard pass past Steve Mason.
“In the second period they took it to us,” said Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, who made 31 saves. “We had trouble breaking out of our own zone. They had odd-man rushes, and we [seemed] to be spinning our legs. That’s what happened. That second period really cost us.”
“When we have everybody contributing to our lineup like we have, that’s why you win series,” Richards said of the Rangers’ depth.
Over the course of the seven games against the Flyers, 11 Rangers scored a goal and 17 had at least one point.
“It seems like every night someone’s contributed when they came in,” Richards said. “We’ll keep doing that.”
Carcillo and Pouliot were not the only Rangers to step to the forefront a night which demanded contributions from all. Among the notables was the defensive pairing of Marc Staal and Anton Stralman.
Staal had three blocked shots and five hits in 24:28, while his partner had three blocks and two hits in 22:09.
“[Staal] and [Stralman] came up really big for us,” Dan Girardi said. “[They] made some big plays in the [defensive] zone, made some good offensive plays. Those guys stepped up really big for us in a huge Game 7.”
Then there was Henrik Lundqvist.
The franchise cornerstone made 26 saves as he improved to 4-1 with a 1.00 goals against average and .963 save percentage in five all-time Game 7s. Lundqvist’s lone mistake was Jason Akeson’s off-wing drive 4:32 into the third which cut the lead to 2-1.
“He was huge for us, especially when they had that big surge for the first five, 10 minutes of the third,” Girardi said of Lundqvist. “He made some big saves for us. He’s such a focused guy. When he [gets into that mindset], he’s not letting anything in. They got that one [goal] but that’s not going to faze him. He was huge for us.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.