NEW YORK, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist earned his 41st career playoff victory and his first post-season point with an assist.
The only number that mattered late Sunday night was the one win the New York Rangers need to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years.
“You just have to keep the same mindset that you had for the first four or five games, and the last series. You don’t change anything,” Lundqvist said after the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory gave them a 3-1 lead against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals. “You don’t think about what’s ahead. You’re just going in and trying to do your job.”
The Rangers know firsthand just how quickly a 3-1 series lead can evaporate. They dug out of that hole in the previous round against Pittsburgh.
A win Tuesday in Montreal will put New York in the championship round for the first time since they won the title in 1994. A loss will make Game 6 necessary at what will be a nervous Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
“I look forward to that challenge,” Lundqvist said of the return to Montreal, where the Rangers won the first two games of the series. “It’s exciting to know you’re one game away. You have to motivate yourself to get to a level where you’re helping the team.
“That’s pretty good motivation right there.”
Martin St. Louis has been providing inspiration on and off the ice in recent times, particularly since the unexpected death of his mother the day after the Rangers fell behind the Penguins 3-1.
St. Louis tended to family responsibilities for a day before rejoining his teammates in Pittsburgh for Game 5.
The Rangers, who attended the funeral for St. Louis’ mother near Montreal in between Games 1 and 2 of this series, were galvanized as they rallied around their grieving teammate.
New York is 6-1 since her passing, and the latest win came 6:02 into overtime on Sunday when St. Louis netted his sixth goal of the playoffs.
“I had some decent looks,” St. Louis said. “The puck bounced a couple of times. You just have to concentrate on your next opportunity. You get this far, you have to trust yourself. That’s what I try to do, and I was fortunate.”
He has 10 career post-season winning goals and 39 overall. He hadn’t scored in a playoff overtime since Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals when he was with Tampa Bay.
Less than three months since being acquired by the Rangers, he is providing memorable moments that could lead to another championship. St. Louis has a six-game point streak—with four goals and three assists—and three goals in this series.
“He has been great for us ever since he got here,” said forward Carl Hagelin, who also scored his sixth playoff goal. “He shows a lot of tenacity and emotion every time he steps on the ice.”
The Rangers rebounded from a home overtime loss on Thursday by outlasting the Canadiens, who carried much of the play over the final two periods. New York didn’t want to return to Montreal all even, even though it won the opening two games of the series there.
“It would have been devastating to go back there without getting one at home,” forward Brad Richards said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I’d rather it be 3-1 than 2-2. It was a very emotional time when we saw that go in.”
A loose puck came to St. Louis, alone in the right circle, and he fired a snap shot over goalie Dustin Tokarski’s shoulder. That gave the Rangers the win after they squandered a pair of one-goal leads.
“St. Louis had some time and picked a corner on me,” Tokarski said. “It’s a game of inches, and we came up a bit short.”
Hagelin put the Rangers in front with a short-handed tally in the first period, and Derick Brassard made it 2-1 in the second in his return from a two-game injury absence. Hagelin also assisted on St. Louis’ winner.
Lundqvist made 27 saves in tying the post-season franchise record for wins held by 1994 Cup champion Mike Richter, who was in attendance. He also earned an assist on Brassard’s goal.
“I’m really proud to be out there with those guys, and hopefully can keep it going a little more,” Lundqvist said.
Francis Bouillon tied it for Montreal in the second, and fellow defenceman P.K. Subban made it 2-2 in the third with a power-play goal. David Desharnais assisted on both for Montreal. Tokarski stopped 26 shots for the Canadiens, who went 1 for 8 on the power play.
“By no means are we counting ourselves out,” Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. “It’s a tough loss, it’s a bitter loss, but at the end of the day we are still in this series. I still like our chances with two games at home.”
Though there were 13 minor penalties, there was no carry-over of the nastiness in Game 3 when a hit by Montreal’s Brandon Prust broke the jaw of New York forward Derek Stepan. Prust served the first game of a two-game suspension. Stepan sat out after having surgery.
The Rangers gave Montreal five power plays through the first two periods, and New York’s penalty-killers stood tall. But the sixth produced the tying goal 2 minutes into the third period when Subban scored his first goal of the series and first point in six games.
That broke the Rangers’ run of 27 straight killed penalties, dating to Game 2 of the second round.