GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist gave a wink and a smile when asked about his postgame tirade after the New York Rangers stayed alive with a Game 6 win at Ottawa.
The usually mild-mannered star goalie, who could be in line to win the Vezina Trophy for the first time, wasn’t really in the mood to rehash it. There are much bigger things on his mind and the minds of his teammates, like beating the Senators at home in Game 7 and moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since winning at Ottawa on Monday and forcing a decisive game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. They were more than happy to discuss the improved power play that produced two of New York’s goals in the 3-2 victory in Game 6 and the benefits of having this final game on home ice.
“Mentally, you just try to block everything you can’t control. Just control your emotion and focus on the right things,” said Lundqvist, who was announced Wednesday as one of three Vezina finalists for goalie of the year. “So far, home advantage hasn’t really played out that well for anybody, but hopefully our crowd can be the difference and help us push our game here and get some confidence right away.
“There’s no better feeling than to win at home, so we’re going to do whatever we can to win this game.”
Home teams were only 17-28 in the first round of the playoffs, heading into Game 7 of the Boston-Washington series on Wednesday night.
The Rangers have a spotty record in Game 7s, winning all three at home but going 3-5 overall. They haven’t hosted a Game 7 since 1994 when they had back-to-back winner-take-all games in the Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup finals. That was also the last time New York was the No. 1 seed.
Since then, the Rangers have made only one Game 7 appearance, losing to Washington in the first round of the 2009 playoffs after leading the series 3-1.
Rangers coach John Tortorella and forward Brad Richards won a pair of Game 7s in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, capturing the Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup finals in series that went the distance.
“We have talked about how we’re going to enjoy something that not a lot of people get to do,” Richards said. “It’s not the Stanley Cup or the finals, but Game 7s are something you don’t forget. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to step up.”
Richards was chosen as the playoffs MVP eight years ago.
“I think it calms down a lot of guys to have guys that have been a part of things like this before,” Lundqvist said of Richards, in his first season with the Rangers. “All year he has stepped up at critical moments, and it just shows what kind of player he really is. Hopefully he can keep that going.”
The Senators are 0-4 in Game 7s, including three road losses. They haven’t been in one since losing at Toronto in the first round of the 2004 playoffs.
“Game 7 in Madison Square Garden … the stage doesn’t get much bigger than that,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told the team’s official website. “It’s a great opportunity. We still feel we’ve got a good chance.”
The Rangers got key contributions from youngsters such as Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider with the season on the line. Stepan, in his second NHL season, had a goal and two assists in Game 6. Kreider, playing in just his fourth NHL game of any kind, netted his first goal, and it stood up as the winner.
“It was just a big step for where my game is at right now,” the 21-year-old Stepan said. “I needed to find a way to contribute and help out. I felt Game 5 was the start and it carried over to Game 6.
“As a team, we’re just making steps toward the way we want to play. It’s coming and it’s been coming all series long.”
The Rangers have been building to this moment throughout this season as they claimed the top seed in the East. They expected a tough series from the eighth-seeded Senators, but perhaps not this tough.
Tortorella stressed that home-ice advantage doesn’t really kick in until a series reaches Game 7, but then declined to explain why.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan was given an extra day off from practice as he mends from a finger injury sustained when he blocked a shot in Game 6. There was no update on Brian Boyle, who sat out Monday night after sustaining a concussion from a hit by Ottawa’s Chris Neil in Game 5.
The already feisty series could get even rougher in the final meeting.
“It’s pretty funny to say that, but I can see it,” Senators forward Nick Foligno told the team’s website. “The intensity is going to get raised and there’s a lot of emotion involved. When you see a guy seven times in a row, there’s going to be battles that ensue. You develop a bit of a dislike for each other, and that’s going to be the case in New York.
“We have to make sure we channel that in the right direction and use it to our advantage in battling hard, and make sure we’re the team outworking the Rangers.”
Lundqvist said he hadn’t talked to anyone from the NHL in response to his critical remarks after Game 6, when he said, “Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation,” after Jason Spezza got Ottawa within one in the final minute.
Lundqvist contended that the goal shouldn’t have counted because he felt Neil kicked it in, and he was interfered with in the crease.
“There’s a lot of emotions out there, at the end of the game, and there’s a lot on the line,” Lundqvist said Wednesday. “Sometimes you do stuff that maybe you should’ve thought it through before you say something. But I moved on.”