King Henrik saves the Rangers, who ‘get another chance to play’

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NEW YORK — Derek Stepan didn’t want anyone to “fool” themselves. Yes, the New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings. Yes, they finally got some puck luck. And yes, they’re still alive in the Stanley Cup Final. But if not for Henrik Lundqvist, this thing would be over. The Kings would be champs for the second time in three years, and they’d have celebrated on the ice at Madison Square Garden.

“Hank stood on his head,” said Stepan. “He made some big saves at big times for us. Those are the big plays we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum. Hank stood tall and he’s a big part of why we’re going back to L.A.”

Mats Zuccarello took it one step further: “We probably play our worst game of the series and we win.”

Added Dan Girardi: “It was pretty self-explanatory out there. He was the King tonight for us, making huge saves when he had to.”

As for the man himself?

“Well, I felt good tonight,” Lundqvist said. “I must say, I felt pretty good in every game. It’s just tonight, we had the bounces. We talked about it the first couple games where, you know, especially against this team, you need that little extra puck luck. They play a lot around the net, a lot of deflections, screens. Sometimes it’s going to hit you and sometimes it’s not. You have to keep telling yourself you’re doing the right things. So that’s what I did.”

Lundqvist made 40 saves on the night, including 15 in the third period when his teammates managed just one on the other guy. Only Kings captain Dustin Brown could beat “the King” in Game 4, on a breakaway (thanks to Girardi’s broken stick) in the second period that made it 2-1 for the home side.

That’s right — if not for their star goalie, the Rangers, in all likelihood, would’ve blown their third 2-0 lead of the series.

“Yeah, I’m not going to lie. The first thought was, ‘Here we go again,'” said Lundqvist. “I guess the important thing was to respond the right way. They had a couple chances right after to make saves right away.”

“He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “He got and we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit. … We get another chance to play. We’re going to be ready for it.”

The challenge, obviously, remains immense. The Rangers still need to win three more — two on the road — without a loss. And the Kings are still the Kings. They’ve been through this before. Nobody’s expecting them to panic.

“We’re going back home, that’s where we won it last time,” said Drew Doughty. “Hopefully we can do the same thing again.”

And they’ll be favored to do just that on Friday at Staples Center. But with Lundqvist, and a little luck, there’s that sliver of hope for the Blueshirts.

“He just competes,” said Stepan. “That’s one thing I’ve learned about Hank, that he never seems to stop competing. He loves to win and he hates to lose.”

“We have to believe,” said Rick Nash. “You got to have faith and you have to believe in your system and in our process. It’s so cliché, but we just have to play it game by game and just worry about another win.”

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: