Sports

Rangers come back again, reach Eastern Conference Final

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RALEIGH, NC. – They did it again.

“We don’t go away,” Chris Kreider said.

The New York Rangers didn’t against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round, coming back from 3-1 down to win the series in seven games, winning Games 5, 6 and 7 in comeback fashion.

They’re still playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they again wouldn’t get pushed over the wall when their backs were up against it against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.

They were down 2-0 and 3-2 in the best-of-7 series and came back to defeat the Hurricanes anyway, dominating Game 7 at PNC Arena on Monday for a 6-2 win after controlling Game 6 for a 5-2 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

The Rangers are 5-0 in must-win games this postseason. Now they’re in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Game 1 is at New York on Wednesday (8 pm ET; ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS).

“I’ve said it a hundred times this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, “we’re not perfect, but we find ways to win.”

They were every bit as good as they needed to be in Game 7, easily their most complete game of the series and arguably of their 14 games in the playoffs to date.

“That’s how you win in the playoffs, you need a team game, 20 guys pulling in the right direction,” Kreider said. “We had that tonight.”

[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Rangers series coverage]

Twelve of the Rangers’ 18 skaters had at least one point.

Mika Zibanejad had three, all assists. Kreider scored two goals, doubling his total from the previous six games. Adam Fox had a goal and an assist, as did Andrew Copp.

Fox and Kreider scored power-play goals 4:20 apart to give New York a 2-0 lead eight minutes into the first period.

“You can see the other games that we didn’t get going early and even gave up shorthanded goals, it changes momentum,” Fox said. “Our power play has come through for us all year and in these types of games you want it to. It did today.”

Igor Shesterkin was again brilliant, making 37 saves, including 16 in the first period to preserve a 2-0 lead.

With the Rangers in must-win mode, Shesterkin stopped a combined 74 of 78 shots in Games 6 and 7. He is 5-0 with a .930 save percentage (13 goals on 186 shots) in elimination games.

Shesterkin is 7-3 with a .939 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average since Game 5 of the first round. He was pulled early in Games 3 and 4 against the Penguins, both losses.

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“He’s done it all year,” Gallant said. “Nothing surprises me. He made some great saves at key times in that first period. He was outstanding and made that 2-0 lead hold up for us.”

Jacob Trouba didn’t score, but he had five blocked shots and a thunderous hit on Seth Jarvis at 7:24 of the first period that knocked the Hurricanes forward out of the game with an upper-body injury.

“It seems like he can turn the tide for us when we need it,” Fox said of Trouba. “You saw it last series, you see it this series. Obviously, there’s one or two big ones that everyone sees, but there are many more that wears teams down, wears guys down.”

Video: Rangers advance to conference finals with 6-2 win

Ryan Lindgren was plus-3 with four blocked shots. The defenseman left Game 7 briefly in the second period, incapable of putting weight on his left foot after he was hit into the end boards by Nino Niederreiter. He returned less than six minutes later, on both feet.

“Definitely didn’t doubt he was going to come back,” Fox said. “He brings a spark for us and when he came back it kind of did too.”

Ryan Strome scored less than four minutes after Lindgren returned to make it 3-0 at 16:19, using a short-side wrist shot from the left circle to beat Pyotr Kochetkovwho was forced into the game 42 seconds earlier because Antti Raanta had to leave with a lower-body injury.

Kreider, Filip Chytil and Copp scored in the third period.

“I don’t think there’s any passengers,” Kreider said.

They wouldn’t keep coming back if there were. This isn’t new to the Rangers.

They had 27 comeback wins in the regular season, second most in the NHL behind the Florida Panthers (29). They did not lose more than two games in a row in regulation until the last week of the season, after they had clinched a playoff berth.

Down 3-1 against the Penguins.

No problem.

Down 3-2 against the Hurricanes after five games. Win Game 6, but now back to PNC Arena for Game 7, a must-win game in a building where the home team was 7-0 in the playoffs, where they were 0-3.

No problem.

“It’s amazing,” Fox said. “We’re a resilient group in there. We’ve said it all year. Backs against the wall five times now and we’ve come through it alive. Definitely want to keep this momentum going into the next round. We do have bigger goals. “

Like finding a way to beat the two-time defending champs in the conference final.

Game 1 is Wednesday. Don’t count out the Rangers.

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