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Rangers Knock Off Senators to Advance to Stanley Cup Semi-Finals

The Capitals await after the Rangers squeeze past the Senators

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Anton Stralman #32 of the New York Rangers leads his bench onto the ice as they celebrate their 2 to 1 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden.

    It was a Game Seven, so you probably knew it was going to come down to one goal and some close calls in the final minute.

    It was also the 2011-2012 Rangers, a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference because they won a lot of games just like that over the course of the year. They are still alive in their quest for a Stanley Cup because they won one more, this time 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. 

    Second-period goals by Mark Staal and Dan Girardi stood up, thanks to a scrambling, endless effort by the Rangers through the rest of the game. It doesn't take long to figure out the Rangers' way of doing things: Staal's goal was set up by a great hustle play by Chris Kreider, who was playing the fifth game of his NFL career.

    Most of the scrambling came on defense. The Rangers had to take care of a lot of business in their own end to hold on to a lead for half the game.

    One of the biggest moments in the game came at the end of the first period when the Senators kept an exhausted Rangers defense pinned in its zone for several minutes. The Rangers didn't crack before they were saved by the horn, and it was a moment that showed that the fight was at a requisite level for Game Seven.

    It was really the only question left for the Rangers to answer after a series that saw them get a bit too passive a bit too often compared to the way they approached the game during the regular season. Game Seven saw the return of the Rangers who would do absolutely anything in order to win a game.

    That would be the case again for long stretches of the third period as shift after shift took place in the Rangers' end, but, again the defense held under pressure. Shots were blocked, passes were tipped away and, when all else failed, there was Henrik Lundqvist to save the day.

    Lundqvist has to be very good for the Rangers to have a chance to keep advancing in this tournament, and that's exactly what he was on Thursday night. It was as big a night as there's been in Lundqvist's Rangers career, and he played as well as he ever has to take his team forward to the second round.

    When they get there, they'll be facing the Capitals. It's a team that looks much different than it did when the Rangers saw them near the end of the regular season.

    That Capitals team had underachieved all year and lost their top goaltenders to injury just as the year was coming to an end. Braden Holtby was an unknown quantity in net and the team needed to go to the wire just to get into the playoffs.

    Now, though, they have fought through the defending champs from Boston thanks to a balanced effort up and down the lineup. Holtby was very strong against the Bruins and has to be riding a huge wave of confidence coming into this series.

    In other words, the Rangers' climb is just getting started. With two wins to hold off a crushing first round disappointment, it is starting with a head of steam that could take it some very interesting places.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.