NHL Playoffs: Rangers reach Stanley Cup Final


NHL Playoffs: Rangers reach Stanley Cup Final


NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist was perfect on a night he needed to be.

After one of the toughest games of his career, the New York goalie bounced back with a performance that put the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals.

Lundqvist wasn't overly busy in stopping all 18 shots that came his way, but there was no margin for error as Dominic Moore's second-period goal was the only offense in New York's 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 on Thursday night.

The Rangers, who spent parts of the season as a question mark to make the playoffs, are in the finals for the first time since winning the title 20 years ago.

"We played so well the entire game," Lundqvist said. "For me it was more about just being focused on the shots they had."

Lundqvist and the Rangers shook off a 7-4 loss on Tuesday night in Montreal when they had their first chance to end the Eastern Conference finals.

Lundqvist quickly grew tired of the questions about that poor night, when he was yanked after allowing four goals in less than two periods. Now he is in the finals for the first time in his nine-year career.

"It's been tough," Lundqvist said. "You have so many highs. You have a few lows where you're questioning a lot of things, but then you just have to make up your mind, you can't have any excuses. I don't think I've been more determined to win a hockey game. To put ourselves in a spot where we can play for the Cup is extremely special."

Lundqvist leaped several times in his crease with his hands raised as streamers were fired off from the rafters at the final buzzer.

"It was just such a great feeling to see how we responded from the last game," Lundqvist said. "The third period, I think we played our best period of the playoffs. When it mattered the most, the guys really stepped up."

Lundqvist tied the team record for playoff shutouts with nine.

The Rangers are the first team to advance to the finals after being stretched to seven games in the first two rounds. To celebrate, the Empire State Building was immediately lit up in the team's red, white and blue.

The Rangers don't have a captain, so assistants Brad Richards, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, were called to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy but didn't touch it. The whole team joined them and posed for a photo while the Garden rocked with yells of "We Want The Cup!"

The Stanley Cup finals will begin Wednesday at either Chicago or Los Angeles, which leads the Western finals 3-2.

"It's something you feel good (about), but you have to keep in the back of your mind that this isn't the ultimate goal," Richards said. "It's an amazing achievement to be able to play for the Cup."

Montreal's Dustin Tokarski, who replaced injured No. 1 goalie Carey Price after Game 1, was solid in making 31 saves.

"It's pretty tough to have this opportunity to be a couple wins away from the Stanley Cup finals," Tokarski said. "I know it's going to be hard to come by again, but it was a heck of a series."

Montreal made one final push after Tokarski was pulled for an extra skater with 1:53 left. Lundqvist held off the Canadiens as fans chanted "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!"

The Rangers broke the deadlock late in the second period after some good grinding work in the left corner by rugged forward Derek Dorsett. The puck came free to defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who sent it behind the net to Brian Boyle in the right corner. Boyle spotted Moore alone in the crease and fed a crisp pass for a hard shot that got through Tokarski with 1:53 left.

Moore punctuated his third goal of the playoffs with an emphatic fist pump and yell.

"Like any player on the team, you want to do your job," said Moore, who had six goals in the regular season. "In big games like this, every little bit counts."

Montreal came right back and drew its second power play of the night when Richards was forced to hook Thomas Vanek as the struggling forward was making a strong drive in front from behind the net with 12.9 seconds remaining in the period.

The Canadiens failed on their two power plays and finished 2 for 23 in the series. Montreal had only five shots in both the first and third periods.

"It's not what we wanted," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said about the series. "Today they were opportunists. They scored a big goal and they really committed themselves to shutting it down after that."

Tokarski kept his club in it early in the third when the Rangers pushed for an insurance goal. Tokarski did splits and lunges to deny Derick Brassard on the doorstep after New York moved the puck out from behind the net.

Vanek nearly gave the Canadiens the lead with 4:45 to go in the second when he put a shot on net while Montreal had a mini 2-on-0 in front. Lundqvist made a desperate rolling move onto his back and got a piece of the puck with a swipe of his blocker, deflecting it away from the top of the net.

Montreal got back forward Brandon Prust after he served a two-game suspension for a late hit in Game 3 that broke Derek Stepan's jaw. Montreal's Dale Weise sat out two nights after he was wobbled by a hit to the head from John Moore that cost the Rangers' defenseman a two-game suspension that will carry into the Cup finals opener.

Lundqvist earned his team-record 41st career playoff victory. ... The Rangers hadn't won a series in less than seven games since the first round in 2008 against New Jersey. ... Montreal hasn't been to the Stanley Cup finals since winning the title in 1993.

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.