Sports Hockey

NHL PLAYOFFS

Kreider leads Rangers to victory, Game 7 date with Capitals

Don Brennan. (ERROL MCGIHON/Ottawa Sun)

By Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the first period in Game 6 of the second round of the 2015 NHL playoffs at Verizon Center on May 10, 2015. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the first period in Game 6 of the second round of the 2015 NHL playoffs at Verizon Center on May 10, 2015. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

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WASHINGTON - 

It will happen one day, of course, but “The King” is not ready to relinquish his throne just yet.

Henrik Lundqvist turned in a spectacular performance Sunday night at Verizon Center, beating potential heir apparent Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals 4-3 to set up a Game 7 in a most exciting second-round playoff series.

Lundqvist made 42 saves, including 34 in the first two periods, as he extended his and the Blueshirts record in elimination games to an incredible 13-3.

“You’re not really thinking about past series, or last year,” said Lundqvist, referring to the Rangers bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Penguins 12 months ago. “What you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter.

“It’s a new year, new team, new series … everything is new. So you just try to be in that moment and try to play your best.”

And his teammates know that’s what they’re going to get from Lundqvist. In fact, they’d bet on it.

“It’s just one of those things we almost take for granted,” said Rangers defenceman Marc Staal. “We just know he’s going to be there stopping pucks. We just worry about how we play in front of him and let him do his thing.”

Also almost to be taken for granted is a Rangers playoff game decided by one goal. This was their 13th in a row, despite the fact they had a three-goal cushion well into the third period.

“We weren’t comfortable with 4-1 so we made it a little more interesting,” joked Staal.

Chris Kreider led the Rangers with two goals — one in the first minute of the first period and the other with .3 seconds left before the intermission — while Rick Nash and Dan Boyle had the others.

Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Evgeni Kuznetsov scored for the Capitals. Ward, the hero of Game 1, also added two assists.

“It’s been a close series, all series,” said Holtby, who made 24 saves. “We obviously gave ourselves a pretty good opportunity being up 3-1, but at that point, the series could have been the other way too, so we’re just focusing on our game. We had an opportunity to move on. Game 7 is a big one, and one that we’re going to use the momentum we got in the third period.”

After Kreider’s goals put them behind by a pair after one period, the Capitals started garnering momentum in the second when they outshot the Blueshirts 18-4. But Lundqvist was beaten only by Chimera’s goal 28 seconds into the period.

When Nash scored in the first minute of the third and Boyle padded the margin with another before the five minute mark, the Rangers looked to be home and cooled.

But Kuznetsov and Chimera brought them to within one with almost half a period still to play.

“We, obviously, would like to have a redo off the first minute of every period it seems,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “First period wasn’t what we wanted. They capitalized on their chances, and we didn’t in the first. We probably played as poorly as it looked.”

But still Washington provided the Rangers a scare.

“It’s the playoffs and the team that gets a 4-1 lead, they shouldn’t let us back in it,” said Caps winger Tom Wilson. “We can’t start from there. We have to tighten up a couple of things, obviously. It’s anyone’s game now.”

But the Rangers have Lundqvist, and he’ll be ready.

“There is no doubt that he (Lundqvist) was a difference maker on the ice tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.

Dan Girardi agreed.

“He surprises me every day with his focus,” said the Rangers defenceman. “He’s just so focused on the game, and he makes that save when we need it the most. He was just a wall back there for us when we were just battling and trying to get it out of our zone and get it in their end, but we just couldn’t find it.

“(Washington) had a lot of opportunities, but he was there to close the door.”

And now, it comes down to a coin toss.

“You can talk all you want about momentum or anything like that, but it’s a seven-game series and they’re going to come in with the same mentality we are,” said Staal. “We’ve got to be ready. It’s going to be a blast.”​

NASH ENDS SLUMP

Rick Nash had 10 goal-scoring streaks this season. Some were just two games long, mind you, but there were also three that went four contests.

The Rangers would welcome an 11th now. As for Nash, he’ll only be satisfied if it comes a win.

Nash, whose 42 regular-season goals were more than any player in the league whose name is not Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos, finally stopped his playoff slump at eight games with a key third-period tally in Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Capitals.

It was his second goal, on his 39th shot, of the post-season.

“It’s nice to score goals,” said Nash, who will be looking to pick up at least one more in Wednesday’s Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. “Obviously, they’ve been hard to come by and it’s been really frustrating when you can’t do the thing you’re supposed to do and you feel like you’re letting your team down.

“It’s tough, but winning games, that’s all that matters ... and going into Game 7 with some momentum.”

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