After a series of tight contests and good goaltending by both sides in the Capitals vs. Rangers series, in the end, Henrik Lundqvist was the netminder who punched his team's ticket to the next round.
Lundqvist stopped all 35 shots he faced -- although the shot quality dwindled as the game progressed -- and it was becoming evident the goaltender had gotten inside Washington's head, as the Capitals had abandoned the style that had gotten them a 2-0 series lead. Instead of Washington taking shots from the point and looking for deflections past Lundqvist, the Caps were making the extra passes, and playing into the Rangers' hands as they clogged the passing lanes knowing they would try and deliver on the perfect play.
In the end, the Capitals didn't score in the final 120 minutes of the series, the last goal allowed by the Swedish netminder being Mike Ribeiro's overtime Game winner in Game 5.
In Game 6, he held the Capitals at bay with a flurry at the end, and in Game 7, while the Capitals started strong, Washington's will waned once the Rangers got on the board first. In the end, the last 62 shots the Caps put on net were turned away, and in the process collected his seventh and eighth career playoff shutouts.
Certainly, the Rangers' style of shot-blocking helped frustrate the Capitals, but certainly the goaltending stood up when Washington got some good looks. But the ultimate change of Washington's attack to rely on passing ultimately led to their elimination, and that was in large part to Lundqvist's strong play.
"Down 2-0, I just didn't think we were that far off," Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters afterwards. "I think a number of people thought down 2-0, you're not going to get this done. It's a tall hill to climb but we just went about our business, tried to take one day at a time. Henrik was, obviously, fantastic through the series and we found a way to get some momentum, win three out of four going into this game and we felt good about it."
For the Capitals, who altered their style under Adam Oates following the team's second-round exit at the hands of the same Rangers, they actually scored one less goal in this seven-game series than last season's. It wasn't for lack of scoring chances, as Washington had some terrific looks, but as the series progressed, the frustration was more evident for the Capitals and it was evident in Game 7.
"I think we did a decent job. He made a lot of great saves," Oates said afterwards. "They protect him. That's kind of how they are designed. We try and get in there and get the shots through and they are very good at it."
Washington was shut out for the first time in back-to-back playoff games in their history, one that certainly has a history of running into hot goaltenders.
The Rangers, who certainly had a disappointing regular-season with big expectations to start the year, now get a chance to move on to face the Bruins - a team they won two of three in the regular season - and a chance to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
And, with perhaps the best goaltender left standing in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers certainly look to make up for their own disappointing finish to the playoffs.
"Anything is possible with Henrik [Lundqvist] back there," New York's Ryan McDonagh told reporters. "He stands tall, he competes so hard and it's great to see guys willing to block shots and he really respects that and honors that, and recognizes that. For everybody, it's a good feeling here but we want to continue to roll with it."