Montreal Canadiens Tomas Plekanec watches New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist make a skate save in the final minutes of the 3rd period in game 6 of their Eastern Conference first round series of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 22, 2017. The Rangers defeated the Canadiens 3-1 and won the series 4-2. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK -- The demise of Henrik Lundqvist has been greatly exaggerated.
Coming off the worst regular season of his career, Lundqvist completed a dominant first-round performance with 27 saves that helped the New York Rangers edge the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night and win the series 4-2.
The Rangers face Ottawa or Boston in the second round.
Lundqvist stopped 195 of 206 shots in the series -- good for a .947 save percentage. His final save of Game 6 sealed the series as he extended his left leg to deny Tomas Plekanec on the doorstep in the final minutes with the Canadiens pushing for the tying goal.
A shot from the blue line by Andrei Markov missed the net but caromed off the end boards and back to the crease, leaving Lundqvist to scramble back into position. Plekanec, who tied Game 2 in a similar situation to force overtime, could not push the puck into the wide-open net before Lundqvist made the series-clinching save.
"My first thought was, don't knock it in, and then it ends up right on his stick," Lundqvist said. "It was just a desperation save. Luckily he didn't put it far corner. I knew with two minutes to go, it was going to be one more or two more saves and if I could come up with those, we were going to be in good shape."
Derek Stepan sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 17.8 seconds remaining.
The Rangers outscored the Canadiens 14-11 in the series with two goals into empty nets. It was a goaltending duel that saw Carey Price, who stopped 20 shots in Game 6, come up a little short.
Noah Syndergaard and Alexandra Cooper watch the New York Rangers play the Montreal Canadiens in game 6 of their Eastern Conference first round series of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 22, 2017. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Alexei Emelin gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead early in the first period but Mats Zuccarello answered with two goals in the second period. He scored his first goal on a power play -- the Rangers' first tally with the man-advantage in the series -- and it was one Price usually stops. It squeezed between his arm and body and allowed the Rangers to pull even.
"It's lucky," Zuccarello said. "It's not every day you beat Carey Price like that."
Zuccarello's second goal was off a pretty feed from Kevin Hayes and gave the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish.
The Rangers' defense struggled throughout the season and early in this series. But they allowed only 113 shots over the final four games, which included an extended overtime in Game 5. With the blue line making life somewhat more tolerable for Lundqvist and his rising to the occasion, it was just enough to win a very close series.
"It was a real similar, tight-checking series," Stepan said. "There were some timely goals by us and I also thought there were some timely saves by (Lundqvist). It was small details that probably were the difference."
No matter the detail, the difference came back to Lundqvist outplaying Price.
"He played real well, for sure," said Shea Weber, who was acquired in the offseason in a 1-for-1 deal that sent PK Subban to Nashville. "Their team played well. He held them in at times but they had momentum at times as well where they were all over us. They managed to get goals at times because of that."
Now the Rangers can wait for what could be a weaker opponent in the second round. The Canadiens won the Atlantic with 103 points while the Rangers earned the second wild-card spot with 102 points. But the Senators (98 points) and Bruins (95 points) would have home-ice advantage against the Rangers.
"We know it's either Boston or Ottawa," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're going to start getting ready. I think what our success during the year was when we took it a game at a time and never got ahead of ourselves. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves now. We're going to focus on our next opponent."
NOTES: Canadiens C Andrew Shaw (upper body) did not play. He had zero points in five games in the series. ... The Canadiens made three lineup changes, inserting RW Miachel McCarron, C Brian Flynn and D Brandon Davidson in place of Shaw, RW Torrey Mitchell and D Nathan Beaulieu. ... Rangers LW Tanner Glass was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. The team went 3-0 in his absence. ... The Rangers won three straight games for the first time since mid-February.