© The Associated Press
The New York Rangers celebrate after beating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Thursday in New York. The Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
NEW YORK — Dominic Moore scored late in the second period and Henrik Lundqvist made 18 saves as the New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Thursday to reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 20 years.
New York, which won the first two games in Montreal, won the Eastern Conference final 4-2.
The Rangers’ last appearance in the final was 1994 when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games for their first title in 54 years. The Canadiens have not appeared in the final since 1993 when the dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
New York will face either defending champion Chicago or the Los Angeles Kings, both formidable foes, as the final kicks off Wednesday in the West.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault showed faith in his fourth line, starting the game with Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. They repaid him with the key goal on a night that saw the Rangers play with more urgency than the Canadiens before an amped crowd at Madison Square Garden.
New York outshot Montreal 32-18.
While the Canadiens missed passes and made bad decisions, the workmanlike Rangers did the little things right. Their finishing could have been better but didn’t need to be given Montreal’s sputtering offence.
And Lundqvist, who was pulled in the second period of Game 5 after giving up four goals on 19 shots, returned to world-class form when he needed to be.
Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski was busier than Lundqvist but the Swede was spectacular in the second period when he made an amazing circus-like save with his arm and then blocker off Thomas Vanek. The save had a degree of difficulty that would have done an Oympic diver proud as the Rangers goalie, losing his stick in the process, corkscrewed his body to stop the close-range shot that deflected off a diving defenceman.
The Rangers scored soon after.
Streamers flew through the air as the final whistle blew. The normally calm Lundqvist threw his arms in the air and was mobbed by his teammates. The crowd chanted “We want the Cup.”
Game 7 would have been Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
For Montreal, it was a disappointing end to a surprising playoff run that won fans across the country as Canada’s lone team in the post-season came within two wins of making the Stanley Cup final.
“Let’s push for a game 7!” Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted before the game.
But the Canadiens, who lost star goalie Carey Price in Game 1, could not rise to the occasion.
“They outplayed us,” said a disappointed Max Pacioretty, who added the 1-0 score was misleading — and not in a good way.
Defenceman Josh Gorges said he was “stunned” and hadn’t yet processed what had happened.
Coach Michel Therrien meanwhile said they expected Price would have been ready for Game 1 of the final.
The breakthrough came after the Rangers’ fourth line bottled the Habs up in their own end near the end of the second period. Boyle, left all alone behind the goal, sent a pass through defenceman Francis Bouillon and Moore snapped a shot past Tokarski on the stick side at 18:07 for his third of the playoffs.
Defenceman Ryan McDonagh also drew an assist, his 10th of the playoffs.
New York really had a go at Montreal in the third, buzzing Tokarski’s net. The Canadiens did not get a shot on net for the first nine minutes and were back on their heels the entire period.
Tokarski went to the bench with 1:53 remaining and Lundqvist made a big save with his torso.
Montreal used its timeout as Led Zeppelin and then Frank Sinatra rang around the arena.
The win was the 42nd of Lundqvist’s playoff career, moving the 32-year-old past Mike Richter for the franchise lead. Richter backstopped the Blueshirts to the ’94 Cup.
It was also his ninth playoff shutout, tying him with Richter for the team lead.
Lundqvist has a history of bouncing back from off nights. He was 5-2 with a .930 save percentage in games after a Rangers’ loss this post-season.
Both teams had to adjust their lineups for Game 6.
The Rangers were without defenceman John Moore, starting a two-game suspension for a hit on Dale Weise. Ex-Hab Raphael Diaz started in his place in the third defensive pairing.
Brandon Prust returned from suspension for Montreal but Weise and defenceman Alexei Emelin were both out. Therrien said Weise, flattened by Moore last time out, was not suffering from a head injury but declined to elaborate. Emelin sat out Game 5 with an unannounced injury.
The Rangers came out like men on a mission, outshooting the Habs 4-0 before Montreal captain Brian Gionta was called for goalie interference at 4:15. The Habs were incensed at the call, believing that Gionta was high-sticked on the play.
At one point early on, two Canadiens lost their sticks at the same time in their own zone. It took Montreal almost eight minutes to get its first shot on goal, a weak effort from Max Pacioretty.
While Lundqvist lazed, Tokarski was stopping one shot after another — some that he knew very little about. His mask took the brunt of one shot.
The Canadiens didn’t get their second shot until some 15 minutes into the period. But it was dangerous, forcing a good Lundqvist blocker save off Alex Galchenyuk as Montreal cooped the Rangers up in their own end.
Ranger penalty killer Rick Nash almost scored on a wraparound late in the period.
Montreal was outshot 11-5 in the first period and were lucky not to trail after 20 minutes. But the visitors weathered the storm and opened the second with a one-minute power play.
Instead of watching some offence at the other end, Tokarski had to deal with a short-handed Carl Hagelin wraparound attempt. And the Rangers kept coming as the Canadiens were unable to string passes together.
With a P.K. Subban interference penalty nearing an end five minutes into the period, Derek Stepan rang a shot off the post and past a screened Tokarski.
Montreal’s third defensive duo of Bouillon and Nathan Beaulieu was having problems, leading Therrien to split up the pair in the second period.
Each team had eight shots in the second period.
A slashing penalty to Prust with 5:42 remaining did not help the Montreal cause. But it delighted the crowd.
New York needed to go seven games in its previous two rounds, wasting a 3-2 lead against Philadelphia and rallying from 3-1 down to dispatch the Penguins.
NOTES — Going into Thursday night’s game, the Eastern and Western Conference finals had averaged 6.9 goals per game, the highest-scoring conference finals in 23 years ... Overall the 2014 playoffs have averaged 5.62 goals per game, some five per cent more than the regular season (5.34, excluding goals awarded for shootout wins) ... The crowd included former Ranger and ex-Hab Alexei Kovalev, wearing a 1994 Rangers Stanley Cup hat and T-shirt, former Met and Yankee Darryl Strawberry and actors Jason Bateman and David Zayas.