NEW YORK, N.Y. – Daniel Carcillo sat on the sidelines for two games, waiting for his next chance to help the New York Rangers’ playoff drive.
Henrik Lundqvist began stewing on the bench after being pulled from the net following the Rangers’ thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the first-round series.
Both players got their chance in Game 7 on Wednesday night, and both made the most of it.
Carcillo scored the first of New York’s two second-period goals, and Lundqvist made 26 saves about 24 hours after a rough night in Philadelphia to lift the Rangers to a 2-1 win over the Flyers.
The Rangers improved to 6-0 in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden and now will face another Metropolitan Division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the next round starting on Friday.
In the victorious locker room, the Rangers were already starting to think about the division-winning Penguins, who knocked out Columbus in six games.
“Probably by midnight,” forward Brad Richards said when his focus will turn to the Penguins. “It’s hard to believe, but Philly is out of our minds pretty much. We’ve got to think about Pittsburgh.”
The Rangers got everything out of the home-ice advantage they held against Philadelphia, winning three of four at the Garden. Pittsburgh will have that edge in the second round.
“We’re battle-tested and we’re ready,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Philly is a real tough opponent. Moving forward, we know that we can play a real strong game at both ends of the rink.
“Pittsburgh is probably one of the best teams in the league. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Rangers have advanced to the second round for the third consecutive season, the only Eastern Conference team to do that. It is the first time they have done it since a four-year run that began with their most recent Stanley Cup championship in 1994.
Carcillo gave the Rangers the lead with the first of their two second-period goals, and Lundqvist did enough to hold off the Flyers.
Carcillo paid instant dividends, turning a crisp pass into his second goal of the series at 3:06 of the second.
“When you’re in, you try to do something to stay in, whether it be offensively or bring a lot of energy,” Carcillo said. “That’s just what I was trying to do every time I was in this series.”
Yet, he wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment.
“No one was jittery. We all knew what to do,” Carcillo said. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s just a hockey game. It’s something that we’ve all done our whole life. I know it’s a big stage and stuff, but some guys step up, and some guys shy away.
“On this team, no one was shying away from the big stage.”
Benoit Pouliot stretched the lead to 2-0, and Lundqvist made it stand up one night after New York was beaten 5-2. Lundqvist watched the third period from the bench, and started his early preparation for Game 7.
“Coming home, I was so disappointed,” said Lundqvist, who improved to 4-1 in Game 7s. “At the same time, I was mad because we couldn’t come up with a better performance. To play a Game 7 at home and to win, that was the inspiration.
“We played a really strong series. I think we were the better team. We pushed the pace almost every game. We definitely earned this one.”
Lundqvist allowed only a third-period goal to Jason Akeson at 4:32. The Rangers mobbed Lundqvist after the final buzzer, while the Flyers consoled goalie Steve Mason.
Mason, who didn’t start until Game 4 because of a concussion he admitted to after the game Wednesday, was sharp in stopping 31 shots. He just couldn’t will his club to a complete comeback after the Flyers fell into a 3-2 series hole.
“Game 7, lose 2-1, it doesn’t get any closer than that,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We did a good job staying in the battle. We have a lot of character in this room, and for a young team I think it’s great. This is only going to make us stronger.”
No team won consecutive games in the series.
Carcillo scored the all-important first goal off a picture-perfect pass from Mats Zuccarello.
Zuccarello threaded the puck with a behind-the-back feed from near the right circle between the legs of Flyers defencemen Andrew MacDonald and Braydon Coburn to Carcillo for the redirection.
“Usually those are the toughest ones to pick up. I missed one in Game 4 backdoor,” Carcillo said. “To track it through two sets of legs and then to get decent wood on it and see it go in, is a good feeling.”
Carcillo, who replaced J.T. Miller, played for just the third time and the first at home. He had come out of the penalty box less than a minute earlier after serving a penalty for too many men on the ice.
“First goals are huge in Game 7s,” Richards said. “If you get a goal, get the crowd into it on home ice like we did, you just feel the building get alive.”
Philadelphia couldn’t capitalize on two power plays in the second period in which the Flyers were outshot 18-5.
“We didn’t initiate enough and play with enough aggressiveness as a team,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “Our game overall, we didn’t play our best hockey.”
New York took a 2-0 lead with 8:14 left in the second when Pouliot turned a sharp pass from Derick Brassard into his second of the series. That sent the once-nervous crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.
“We had a lot of legs in the second period,” Richards said. “We rode the fans’ momentum, killed two big penalties. Every line went out there and was just moving their feet and creating problems for them.”
The Flyers held an 11-10 shots advantage in the first scoreless opening period of the series. New York again failed to capitalize on the lone power play in the frame, stretching its streak of futility to 21 straight advantages.
Lundqvist matched Mason at the other end as the Flyers pressured inside the Rangers’ zone.
“He was awesome,” Carcillo said. “He is an elite goalie for a reason.”