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May 13, 2014

Rangers cap comeback, top Pens 2-1 in Game 7

PITTSBURGH — Henrik Lundqvist set an NHL record with his fifth straight Game 7 victory, making 35 saves to lift the New York Rangers to a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night and earn a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

Brian Boyle and Brad Richards scored for New York, who rallied from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in the franchise’s 88-year history.

The Rangers did it behind Lundqvist, who stopped 102 of the final 105 shots he faced over the final three games as New York advanced to the conference finals for the second time in three years.

The Rangers will play the winner of the Bruins-Canadiens series in the conference finals. That series is tied 3-3 and Game 7 is Wednesday night in Boston.

Jussi Jokinen scored his team-high seventh goal of the postseason for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves for the Penguins, who were outscored 10-3 over the final three games.

The Penguins fell to 2-7 all time at home in Game 7s, including three such losses in the past four seasons.

This one might have been the most painful for the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and coach Dan Bylsma that seemed pointed toward a dynasty after winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Crosby, who led the league in scoring and is an MVP finalist, managed just one goal in 13 playoffs games.

Just as importantly, five springs have now come and gone without Pittsburgh getting a Cup to bookend the one they hoisted in Detroit and changes could be on the way.

The Penguins are just 4-5 in playoff series over the past five seasons, with each loss coming to lower-seeded teams.

There are no such Game 7 issues for the Rangers. Not with Lundqvist in net.

He lost his first Game 7 appearance to Washington in 2009, but has been unbeatable ever since. His fifth straight triumph in a deciding game is a new league mark, breaking a tie he shared with Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour and Cam Ward.

When he’s atop his game, Lundqvist doesn’t need much help.

He didn’t receive much from the guys in front of him, though New York — which was outshot 36-20 — didn’t waste a pair of golden opportunities provided by Pittsburgh defensive breakdowns.

Boyle quieted a raucous crowd 5:25 into the game at the end of a pretty breakout.

Derek Dorsett hit Boyle streaking across the Pittsburgh blue line and Boyle tapped it between his legs to Dominic Moore, who waited a split second before sending it back to Boyle.

The veteran forward’s shot went between Fleury’s legs and the Rangers were in a spot they’ve become plenty comfortable in during Game 7s over the past three seasons: in front.

The Penguins responded by briefly taking over the game, their momentum cresting 4:15 into the second period when Jokinen pounded home a rebound off an Olli Maatta shot to tie the game.

The goal seemed to get the Penguins almost too keyed up. Matt Niskanen went to the box for tripping and New York’s power play, which was laughable when the series began, provided the clincher.

Pittsburgh’s Brian Gibbons failed to get his stick down on a crossing pass from Brandon Sutter, nullifying a short-handed chance.

The Rangers took off the other way, and with the Penguins still scrambling to get back into position, Richards took a pass from Martin St. Louis and flipped it into a wide-open net to make it 2-1 before the game’s midway point.

Lundqvist did the rest.

He robbed Pittsburgh’s James Neal at the doorstep late in the second period and fought off swarm after swarm over the final 20 minutes to improve to 10-2 with the Rangers facing elimination. New York beat the Penguins in the playoffs for the first time in five postseason meetings.

The first four series weren’t close.

This one didn’t appear to be either until the Rangers rallied behind St. Louis. The veteran forward, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, lost his mother suddenly last week. He raced home to Montreal to be with his family only to return for Game 5. New York responded with a 5-1 win that signaled a sea change in the series.

The Rangers controlled Game 6 — with St. Louis scoring the first goal on Mother’s Day — and Game 7 was more of the same.

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