NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators congratulates Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers on their win after the Rangers defeated the Senators 2 to 1 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 26, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
An entertaining and close-as-can-be first-round series leaves both the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators excited about the direction of their respective clubs.
In the end, the first-round NHL playoff series between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators broke according to seed: The top-seeded Rangers advanced past the eighth-seeded Senators after a 2-1 victory in Game 7.
But the close-as-can-be manner -- the Rangers outscoring the Senators just 14-13 over seven games -- made for an entertaining series that has both franchises excited about the direction of their respective clubs.
For the Rangers, being stretched to Game 7 with the Senators just one shot away from forcing overtime may have looked too close for comfort, but it was the kind of closeness the Rangers are, well, quite comfortable with.
"They ramped it up on us there [in the] second half of the third [period]," minimalist Rangers coach John Tortorella managed to say in the post-game press conference. "But that's the true identity of our team there: Everyone blocking shots ... Hank [Henrik Lundqvist] made some key saves at key times."
Tortorella also praised the Rangers' kids like Chris Kreider, the rookie fresh from college who forced a turnover to create Marc Staal's opening goal and earned Tortorella's trust to be on the ice in the waning minutes of a one-goal game in Game 7.
For the Senators, they were never supposed to be here -- not this soon, not taking the conference's top seed this far. A team that entered the 2011-12 season in a rebuild mode and had an October marked by ugly losses befitting that description, the Senators took off under rookie coach Paul MacLean and into a playoff position most of the season.
"A great series," MacLean said after the series. "But we're really excited about our team and the steps we took season [after] how we started. We talked all season about building blocks and building blocks and building a foundation. The last month we really grew as a team. ... We're really pleased with our group going hoe."
With a blossoming star like Erik Karlsson and a team concept that evolved over the season, the Senators have bright signs to give them hope even in defeat.
With rookies like Carl Hagelin and Kreider quickly adapting and adding to the cause, the Rangers advance to the second round with reason to believe they're even better than they were at the start of this first-place season.