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NHL Playoff Roundup

Rangers force Game 7

Phoenix sends Chicago packing

By Associated Press / April 24, 2012
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Game 7 at the Garden.

It’s not necessarily what the top-seeded Rangers were hoping for when their first-round Eastern Conference series against Ottawa started, but they’re thrilled about it now.

Brad Richards scored the go-ahead goal and Derek Stepan had a goal and two assists as New York staved off elimination with a 3-2 victory against the Senators Monday night at Ottawa.

The series heads back to New York Thursday night for the first Game 7 in any sport at Madison Square Garden in 17 years.

Not even the return of Daniel Alfredsson, who missed three games with a concussion, in front of the fired-up home crowd at Scotiabank Place could help the eighth-seeded Senators complete the upset.

Carl Hagelin returned to the Rangers lineup after sitting out a three-game suspension for his elbow on Alfredsson.

The Rangers broke through in the second with three goals after going six straight periods without scoring.

Chris Neil gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead in the first with a power-play goal and Jason Spezza cut it to 3-2 with 39 seconds left to play in the third.

Neil was planted at the edge of Henrik Lundqvist’s crease along with teammate Zack Smith when Ottawa scored on the power play at 7:05. Sergei Gonchar’s point shot deflected in off Neil’s skate as he tried to jump out of the way.

The Senators lost their focus in the second and referees Steve Kozari and Tim Peel gave the Rangers four power plays.

Stepan tied the score, 1-1, during the first one at 8:55, taking two whacks at a sweet pass from Richards to beat Craig Anderson. That ended the Rangers scoring drought at 145 minutes and 27 seconds.

New York received a lengthy five-on-three after Nick Foligno was sent off for goaltender interference - replays showed two Rangers players guiding him into Lundqvist - and Richards took advantage of the extra space by skating off the wall and beating Anderson high at 17:08.

That was soon followed by a back-breaking goal from former Boston College star Chris Kreider, the first of his NHL career. He sneaked a shot past Anderson with 40.3 seconds to play in the period to make it 3-1.

The Senators managed to squeeze one puck over the goal line in the final minute, with Spezza getting credit at 19:21 after a long video review.

Coyotes 4, Blackhawks 0 - Mike Smith made 39 saves and Phoenix scored three times in the final period to beat host Chicago and capture their opening-round series in six games.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in the second and Gilbert Brule, Antoine Vermette, and Kyle Chipchura had goals in the third as the Coyotes won a first-round series for the first time since moving to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season. It is the first series triumph for the franchise since 1987 when it was still the Winnipeg Jets.

Phoenix won all three games at the United Center - Monday night’s game was the first in the series not to be decided in overtime - and will play Nashville in the conference semifinals.

Smith was steady all night and spectacular at times, especially early, in recording his first playoff shutout. He had 229 saves in the six games.

Chicago had a 39-20 shots advantage, and 22 shots at the time of the Coyotes’ first score, but couldn’t crack Smith.

The Hawks dominated play in the opening nine minutes with an 11-1 shots-on-goal advantage. Only two great stops by Smith on point-blank attempts by Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes kept the Blackhawks from taking an early lead. Chicago had eight shots in the first 3:14 of the game, and finished the scoreless period with a 16-2 advantage.

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