Henrik Lundqvist was perfect on a night he needed to be.
After one of the toughest 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 he faced, but there was no 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 ,” 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 (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 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 then 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.
NOTES: Lundqvist earned his team-record 42nd 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. … The Rangers are in the finals for the 11th time.
Updated May 30, 2014