The Rangers survived seven games against a worthy foe.
As a result, they will proceed to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since being eliminated by Pittsburgh in 2008.
“You always want to go as deep as you can. We’re excited to get going to the next round,” Ryan Callahan said after the Rangers eliminated the Senators from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a pulsating 2-1 win in Game 7 Thursday night at the Garden.
There were myriad leading men wearing the blue sweater on Broadway. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi scored both of the Rangers’ goals in the second period.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was impregnable, stopping 27 shots, many of which came in the final minutes.
Most notably, the Rangers blocked 23 shots. Staal, Girardi and Ryan McDonagh each had three.
“That’s the way we’ve always played. That’s the way we’ve played all season long,” Derek Stepan said. “We were going to block shots. [Girardi, Staal and McDonagh] are probably the best at it. It’s a big part of our success for sure.”
The commitment to defense led to both Rangers’ goals.
The second line of Callahan, Stepan and Chris Kreider combined on Staal’s game opening score 4:46 into second period. Kreider forced Nick Foligno into a turnover at the blueline with a gorgeous hip check. Callahan corralled the loose puck at the boards and moved it to Stepan, who set up Staal for his first goal of the series and his third career playoff goal.
“The first [goal] is Chris Kreider,” Tortorella said. “He just forces a turnover and Marc reads it.”
Four minutes and 18 seconds later, Girardi completed a rush by slamming a top-of-the-crease feed from Dubinsky past Craig Anderson (25 saves) to increase the lead to 2-0.
The goals by Staal and Girardi marked the first time in franchise history that the Rangers had defensemen score more than one in a playoff game. Staal and Girardi joined Muzz Patrick, Allan Stanley and Brian Leetch as the only Rangers defensemen to score goals in a Game 7.
“We talked about how the defensemen have to jump into the play and they did that quite a few times tonight,” Marian Gaborik said. “It ended up with two big goals by ‘G’ and ‘Staalzie’ and they became key goals.”
Daniel Alfredsson’s power play strike 2:30 after Girardi’s score was Ottawa’s lone goal. It halved the lead with a top-of-the-left-circle slapshot power play goal. The goal may have been the last in Alfredsson’s future Hall of Fame career.
“I’ll take some time, obviously, see how I feel [physically] and mentally after time off,” Alfredsson said. “This year has been unbelievable.”
Ottawa pressed in the third, but Lundqvist and the defense rose to the forefront. Lundqvist made nine saves and the Rangers blocked seven shots in the final period.
“We defended our [butts] off,” John Tortorella said.
The Rangers will meet No. 7 seed Washington in the second round. The Rangers and Capitals split the regular season series, 2-2. All-time, the Rangers are 2-4 in six series against the Capitals, including having lost in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2009 and 2011.
“Past is the past. I don’t think about what happened last year or whatever,” Lundqvist said. “It’s different teams. We’re in a different place. They’re in a different place. Going into that one I will approach it the same way I approached this one.
“They’re a little bit like [the Senators]. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing. We have to be ready.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.