NEW YORK (Reuters) - The resilient New York Rangers did it the hard way once again, capping an historic comeback with a 2-1, Game Seven overtime win over the Washington Capitals to reach the NHL Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.
Derek Stepan blasted home a rebound off a blistering Dan Girardi shot at Caps goalie Braden Holtby with 8:36 left in overtime to lift the Rangers to a 4-3 series triumph and set off wild celebrations at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s a special feeling,” said Stepan, who was mobbed along the boards after his series-winner. “Both teams back and forth, momentum swings. For most of the overtime they have the puck and we just find a way to stick with it.”
The Rangers overcame a 3-1 series deficit to take their place in the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, becoming the only NHL team ever to erase 3-1 playoff deficits in successive seasons.
Last year, New York overtook the Pittsburgh Penguins in a decisive Game Seven in the second round on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was a fitting end to a tight series in which every game was decided by a margin of one goal.
The win gave goalie Henrik Lundqvist the sixth Game Seven victory of his career in succession, tying Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for most Game Seven victories in the NHL.
Washington scored in the first period on a goal by Alex Ovechkin, who collected a perfect backhand pass from Marcus Johansson, skated across the middle and whipped a top shelf shot over Lundqvist just inside the right post.
New York’s Kevin Hayes supplied a power play equalizer in the second period to make it 1-1.
Swede Lundqvist stopped 35 of 36 shots to notch the victory, withstanding a barrage of chances by the Caps in the first five minutes of sudden-death.
“We’ve been through so many things over the last few years. You learn from it,” Lundqvist said. “In this situation we are confident in this group and how we play.
“In the end it all comes down to just one play.”
Holtby turned away 37 shots before Stepan found the net.
“You saw two very good teams go nose to nose, just inches with the team winning an inch here and an inch there,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Everybody here probably predicted seven games and you got it.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Nick Mulvenney