NEW YORK, N.Y. - Nearly everything about the New York Rangers' Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals was improbable, and yet the 5-0 drubbing they authored wasn't even the most surprising result of the night.
No, that belonged to the Boston Bruins—the Rangers' next opponent in the NHL's Eastern Conference playoffs.
On the karma scale, this matchup of Original Six teams is pretty much a dead heat as these classic clubs get set to meet in the post-season for the first time in 40 years.
Heading into Monday's Game 7 between the Capitals and the Rangers, history certainly suggested it would be Washington's big night.
The home team had won the first six games of the series, the Rangers had been 0-5 in road Game 7s, and only once had New York rallied to overcome an 0-2 series hole to advance. None of that mattered in the end as the Rangers got goals from five players—four of whom hadn't scored in the first six games—and Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves in his second shutout of the Capitals in two days.
"That's what we need. Everyone chips in, everyone helps," said star forward Rick Nash, who was held without a goal in the series. "It's not one guy, besides our goalie, who is amazing every night.
"We win together, we lose together. It's a good team."
No one could see 5-0 was about to happen, especially after the Rangers barely stayed alive at home on Sunday with a 1-0 victory. The way Lundqvist is playing, one goal would have been enough again.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, a finalist for the award again this season, made 62 saves over the final two games when the Rangers faced elimination. Only three others have posted shutouts in Games 6 and 7, and Lundqvist is the first to do it since Detroit's Dominik Hasek in the 2002 Western Conference finals against Colorado, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"There are moments where you enjoy it and you think, 'Wow, this is great.' And you have fun. But there are also moments where you don't feel great," the 31-year-old Lundqvist said. "You feel the pressure and you just want to get it done so badly. You try to control your emotions. That's the key for me.
"I'm an emotional guy when I play. I try to just stay calm and focus on my thing, but it's hard when you want to win so badly."
The Rangers tied the NHL record for largest margin of victory by a road team in a Game 7, and posted their first Game 7 shutout, too.
They made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year after Game 7 home wins over Ottawa and Washington when New York was the top-seeded club. The Rangers won't have home-ice advantage in the second round against Boston, the No. 4 seed that outlasted the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday in dramatic fashion.
The Bruins, who had led the series 3-1, were on the brink of elimination when Toronto stormed to a 4-1 lead in the third period. The collapse was near complete before the Maple Leafs had one of epic proportions.
Boston scored three goals in the final 10:42 of regulation, including a pair 31 seconds apart that got the game tied in the final minute. Patrice Bergeron netted the tying goal and then won it 6:05 into overtime.
The Bruins will join the Rangers in carrying a wave of momentum into Game 1 in Boston on Thursday night.
"I still think we can improve and do a lot of things better, and we have to, if we want to beat Boston," Lundqvist said. "It's going to be a tough series. The great thing here, we managed to win the series without playing our absolute best. Going down the stretch, we really improved as a group, and personally, as well. But I think we all know that playing Boston now, we have to step it up a little more."
The areas in which the Rangers need improvement are clear. It would have seemed impossible that New York could have won even one series without a goal from Nash and only one each from captain Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards.
The sixth-seeded Rangers certainly won't count on it happening twice. New York also has to figure out its power play that converted only two of 28 chances against Washington.
"I think the offence will come," said Nash, who had just two assists in the series after a 21-goal, 42-point regular season. "I was getting a few chances. My main goal is trying to help the team. It's unfortunate I can't do it right now by bringing the offence. I'm just trying to make good defensive plays, trying to set guys up and bring some momentum swings."
While they weren't getting production from big-name players, the Rangers got surprising offence from players such as Brian Boyle and Arron Asham, who both had two goals in the series after combining for only four goals in the 48-game regular season.
Asham started the barrage Monday with a first-period goal that got the Rangers rolling. New York scored only 11 goals in the first six games against Washington.
"It's important to have depth in your lineup, with everyone contributing," said Taylor Pyatt, who also scored in Game 7. "It was such a tight-checking series. It was hard to get shots through, with so many guys blocking shots. To have that sort of scoring throughout our depth was really big for us."
New York will need more of that, too, against the Bruins. The Rangers won two of three from Boston in the regular season—one in overtime and another in a shootout.
"They're a big, physical team," Asham said. "They have some skill up front, and I think we match up. We've just got to go there and play our game, play smart hockey and convert our chances, hopefully."