How Rangers and Devils survived Game 7 thrillers

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How Rangers and Devils survived Game 7 thrillers

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- With so little offense from their key playmakers, the New York Rangers dipped into a backup plan that no NHL team had used in more than 60 years. Goals were at a premium throughout the first-round playoff series between the top-seeded Rangers and the upstart Ottawa Senators, who were looking to advance out of the No. 8 hole. New York defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi staked the Rangers to a two-goal lead in the second period, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist bent but didn't break as the Rangers held on for a 2-1 win in Game 7 on Thursday night. Not since 1950 had an NHL team won a Game 7 without the benefit of a goal from a forward, according to a fact released by the Rangers, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau. "We found a way," relieved Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We were fortunate. I'm very happy with the group, and they should be real proud of themselves -- for about an hour." The Rangers earned the right to play the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals, a seven-game upset winner over the No. 2 Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Game 1 is Saturday in New York. It wasn't easy for New York, and after a home loss in Game 5, it almost wasn't likely. But the Eastern Conference's top-seeded team gutted out a big road win and then made it count in Game 7. "You don't want to relax too much" said forward Derek Stepan, who had three points in the Rangers' Game 6 win and then helped set up the opening goal in the clincher. "We have a big round ahead of us and we have to make sure we stay focused and keep that emotion high." Staal and Girardi scored 4:18 apart in the second period, Lundqvist made 26 saves and the Rangers completed a rally from a 3-2 series hole. "We were talking about it in Ottawa that if we could bring it back here, the fans would be behind us," Girardi said. "The way we play all year got us ready for games like this. We came with a great effort (in Ottawa) and another one tonight." Staal broke the scoreless deadlock, and Girardi gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with his first NHL playoff goal. Lundqvist allowed Daniel Alfredsson's power-play goal in the second but stood tall the rest of the way to send the Rangers to the second round. The Rangers hadn't hosted a Game 7 since their Stanley Cup victory over Vancouver in 1994, but they stayed perfect at home in deciding games -- winning their fourth. New York is 4-5 overall in Game 7s, and the Senators dropped to 0-5. "We knew they were going to come out strong," said Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who made 27 saves. "I just wanted to make sure that I gave my team an opportunity to win the hockey game -- make the next save for the guys. "They had their fans. They had lots of energy." Lundqvist withstood tons of pressure from the Senators, who spent most of the closing 5 minutes in the Rangers' end. The win wasn't secure until Sergei Gonchar tripped Carl Hagelin as he skated toward the empty net with 36.2 seconds remaining. "It's playoff hockey at its finest," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "They are making a last surge, trying to play for their season. We stood in there and blocked some shots. Hank came up with some key saves. It's how we have been playing all year, and we have to continue to do that." New York rallied from a 3-2 series deficit for just the second time, building off the momentum of its 3-2 victory in Ottawa on Monday night. "It was a hard series against a very good team," Tortorella said. "I thought both teams went toe to toe in all areas of the game. Sometimes the first round is the hardest round. That's all this is, one round." Just like in Game 6, when the Rangers scored three goals in the second period, New York used the middle frame to take over. While waiting for their big guns -- Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards -- to spark the offense, a pair of defensemen stepped up to get the Rangers going. "It was big for our team," Girardi said. "We were able to take care of our end first, but if we get goals it's nice, as well." Rookie Chris Kreider, whose first NHL goal was the winner Monday, forced a turnover and got the puck into the Ottawa end. Callahan nudged it ahead to Stepan, who sent a pass from the right circle to the left circle to Staal for his first goal of the series 4:46 into the second. Staal, limited to 46 regular-season games because of the lingering effects of a concussion sustained last season, thrust his hands up in delight when his shot beat Anderson. Staal had only two goals in the regular season. "I feel pretty good," Staal said. "The last few weeks of the season and into the playoffs I feel my confidence is back and I feel a lot better on the ice." It didn't take all that long for Madison Square Garden to erupt in cheers again for another blue-liner. Rangers forward Brandon Prust had the puck knocked off his stick, but teammate Brandon Dubinsky was there to get it and smack it into the slot to Girardi, who wound up for a hard slap shot just a few feet from the crease and slammed it past Anderson at 9:04. Like Staal, Girardi isn't known for great offensive prowess. He had five goals while playing in all 82 regular-season games, but had scored only once in the previous 44 -- including the first six of this series. Just when the nervous towel-waving fans began to relax and feel confident that the Rangers would survive and move on to the second round, Alfredsson gave the Senators a big boost and brought back the tension. Ottawa went on its second power play when Michael Del Zotto was called for cross-checking nemesis Chris Neil in front of the net. Alfredsson, who missed three games in the series after an elbow from Hagelin in Game 2 gave him a concussion, made New York pay. Alfredsson took a pass above the left circle from Chris Phillips and one-timed a shot past Lundqvist with 8:26 left in the second to bring the Senators back within a goal. Now the question remains if the 39-year-old Senators captain will retire after 16 NHL seasons -- all with Ottawa. "I'll take some time and see how I feel physically and mentally after time off, but this year has been unbelievable," said Alfredsson, who struggled this season with concussions. "I had a lot of fun, and it's been a great group of guys to be a part of. They've kept me upbeat and happy when I'm a grumpy old man at times." NOTES: Former Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy rejoined the Ottawa lineup after being scratched the previous three games. He replaced Matt Carkner, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1, played in the second game, was suspended for Game 3, and was in the lineup for the previous three. ... Staal has three career playoff goals. Alfredsson has 47. ... It is the first time since 1996 that no Canadian teams reached the second round.

Devils 3, Panthers 2 (2OT) SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Adam Henrique's first Game 7 was one he'll never forget. The rookie scored his second goal of the game at 3:47 of the second overtime to give the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers early Friday. He skated out of the right circle and into the slot, getting goalie Jose Theodore to guess wrong. It sent New Jersey to Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference semifinal opener Sunday, and the resurgent Panthers home for the summer. "Got a pretty good bounce," Henrique said. "Found myself alone and tried to get it on net." Just like that, the Devils were winners of a postseason series for the first time since 2007. And with the game ending in the early hours of April 27, it marked the 20th anniversary of Martin Brodeur's first postseason appearance in goal for New Jersey. Henrique doesn't remember Brodeur's debut. After all, he was only 2. But this night, that'll be unforgettable. "Pretty cool, I guess," said Brodeur, who stopped 43 shots. Stephen Gionta also scored in regulation for New Jersey, which wasted a 2-0 lead in the third period. Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc scored third-period goals for the Panthers, and Theodore made 33 saves. The Panthers made a surprising run to the Southeast Division title this season, earning their first postseason berth in 12 years. "This is not where the hockey people predicted us to be at the start of the year," Weiss said. "We did some good things. We're obviously disappointed not being able to move on. It's been a fun year. It's been a fun playoff in front of our fans." The Panthers thought they were on the board 1:50 into the third period when Mike Weaver's shot from the right point got past Brodeur. Shawn Matthias was whistled for goaltender interference, nullifying the goal -- and further firing up the already desperate Panthers. "Yeah, they probably missed one on that one," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "But what are you going to do?" Weiss cut the lead in half at 5:02 of the third, burying a one-timer from the right circle after a pass from Brian Campbell. The equalizer nearly came 3 minutes later, when Weiss had another shot blocked, Scottie Upshall nearly got his stick on the rebound -- the Devils' Andy Greene tied him up just enough to thwart that chance -- and Kris Versteeg's try was batted away. Didn't matter. The Panthers kept coming. And with Marek Zidlicky in the penalty box for a delay of game call, Florida got the franchise's biggest goal in 16 years. Shawn Bergenheim made a nifty move to get free for a shot that Brodeur stopped. The rebound rolled left, nearly on the goal line, and Goc knocked it home from an extremely tough angle to tie it at 2 with 3:28 left. And to overtime they went. "Exhausting," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "A fitting end to the series." The Devils and Panthers played 11 games this season. New Jersey won six, Florida won five, and the Devils outscored the Panthers 29-28. As close as could be, all the way to the end. "Just a bounce here or there," Versteeg said. "That's what happens." The first 2 minutes of regulation -- probably long forgotten by the time the game ended -- went about as badly as could be for Florida, which quickly found itself down both a goal and a center. Henrique opened the scoring when he tipped the puck past Theodore to get New Jersey on the board and silence an anxious crowd. Anton Volchenkov camped out at the left point, waited for a pass from behind the net to bounce off the boards and carom his way, then fired a one-timer that Henrique -- considered by many to be the league's best rookie -- directed into the net. A half-minute later, things got worse for Florida. Panthers center John Madden and winger Tomas Kopecky collided near center ice, and Madden took the brunt of the big hit. He writhed in agony for several seconds before trying to crawl to the Florida bench, the blood pouring from his face leaving a blotchy red trail along the ice. Two workers emerged to scrape up the mess. New Jersey dominated the opening minutes, taking eight of the first 10 shots. Eventually, the Panthers settled down -- getting 10 shots at Brodeur in the final 10-plus minutes of the first period, yet still heading into the first intermission trailing 1-0. "They got one lucky tip," Kopecky said in a televised interview between periods. "You know, we weren't in a lane and we were kind of cruising around in our zone and it ended up in our net." Lucky or not, it was enough to get the Devils going. And fittingly, Henrique not only got his team started, but then he finished the job. "I think I blacked out when I heard the thud of the back of the net," Henrique said. "It was a great feeling." Greater still for Brodeur, who still has a chance at his fourth Stanley Cup. Brodeur was no fan in this series of Florida's tradition of tossing toy rats on the ice to celebrate. He was the last Devils player to leave the ice, and the last thing he did before joining the dressing-room celebration was to scoop up one of the plastic critters with his stick and send it skyward. "Feels pretty good," Brodeur said. "For a day. And after that, we have to face the Flyers." NOTES: The Devils and Flyers split six meetings this season. It'll be the fifth time in the Brodeur era that the teams have met in the playoffs; Philadelphia won in 2004 and 2010, while New Jersey prevailed on their way to Cup titles in 1995 and 2000. ... Florida had as many broken sticks -- two -- as shots in the second period. ... Madden returned to the ice about 13 minutes after needing to leave following the collision with Kopecky.

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

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