When the tale is told and re-told days, weeks, months, years, decades later, the yarn will be spun as a brilliant bit of coaching engineering.
The truth of the matter is that it was, in hockey parlance, “a bounce.”
Derek Stepan won an offensive zone faceoff, the puck eventually finding its way onto Keith Yandle’s stick. A quick pass to Dan Girardi, who fired a shot that ricocheted off of bodies. To Stepan alone in the left circle.
All it took was a mere snap of the wrist for Stepan’s face to transform into a mask of exhilaration.
“It’s a special feeling,” Stepan said, a few short minutes after the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years by besting the Capitals, 2-1, in overtime of Game 7 of the Metropolitan Division Final on his series-clinching goal.
The Rangers became the first team in NHL history to win a playoff series after trailing 1-3 in successive years. Last year, on their way to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers defeated the Penguins in Game 7 of the semis after losing three of the first four games of the series.
“We’ve been through so many things over the last few years,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 35 saves in winning his sixth Game 7, joining Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most in Stanley Cup Playoffs history. “I think it’s important that you stay focused on the positives. [The Capitals] won three-out-of-the-[first]-four but [they] were close games. That’s important to know that you don’t need to change much to win a game.
“We knew we were very close. It starts with confidence that you can do it, take one game at a time and we did a great job.”
Up next will be an on-ice reunion with ex-mates Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman and their Tampa Bay Lightning teammates in the Eastern Conference Final (Game 1 Saturday, 1 p.m. at MSG, NBC). Tampa Bay won all three regular season meetings between the teams in the regular season by an aggregate 15-7 margin.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was the winning goaltender in all three games, compiling a 2.34 goals against average and .900 save percentage. Callahan led all skaters with four goals, and Steven Stamkos led all players with seven points. However, the last game between the two teams occurred on Dec. 1.
This year’s Eastern Conference Final marks the first time the Rangers and Lightning will meet in a playoff series. Tampa Bay got here beating Detroit in a seven-game series and by eliminating the Canadiens in six.
“It’s huge to get to the Conference Finals,” Marc Staal said. “We were here last year and we’re a confident team. Our focus shifts to Tampa in Game 1.”
Added Stepan: “We have a lot of work to do. It’s certainly a lot of fun but we have a lot of work to do. We are only half way.”