NHL Wrap: Zuccarello, Rangers beat Canadiens 3-1 to reach East semis

With his team trailing after a lackluster effort in the first 20 minutes, Mats Zuccarello came through in the second period to help the New York Rangers get a big series-clinching win.

Zuccarello scored twice and the Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

”He’s a competitive little bugger,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”He competes every shift. He’s become a real big part of our team, not just what he does on the ice, but he brings the team together. … He came up huge for us tonight.”

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

”It’s going to be nice, a couple days off, but it’s only the first round,” Zuccarello said after his first career multigoal game in the playoffs. ”We’ve got to regroup right now and rest up and get ready for the next round.”

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2 with Game 6 on Sunday.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals.

”We weren’t good enough and that’s why we lost,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said. ”But at the same time, I think there are a lot of guys that put in a lot of effort and a lot of energy in the games. At the end of it, it wasn’t pretty and we needed more.”

After being outplayed for most of the first period, the Rangers came out more aggressive in the second and outshot the Canadiens 12-8.

”We felt like we could do a lot of things better in the second (period) and we did,” Lundqvist said. ”We had more jump. We were skating more, winning more battles, and made it really tough for them in their own end.”

Montreal’s Jordie Benn was sent off for holding 1:30 into the second and the Rangers took advantage with their first power-play goal in the series. Zuccarello got a pass from Mika Zibanejad, who had the overtime winner in Game 5 on Thursday night, and sent it past Price from the right circle at 2:26.

”It’s lucky,” Zuccarello said. ”It’s not every day you beat Carey Price like that. It’s a nice power-play goal. About time. That was big for us.”

It fired up the Madison Square Garden crowd that was raucous during the national anthems but had been silenced by the Rangers slow start in the first period.

Zuccarello put the Rangers ahead with his second of the game and third of the postseason with 6:29 left in the middle period. He got a pass from Kevin Hayes in front and, with Benn standing in front of him, beat Price from the right side to send the home crowd into a frenzy.

The Canadiens pressed for the tying goal in the third, pulling Price for an extra skater with about 1 1/2 minutes to go, but Lundqvist stopped all of their eight shots in the period.

Stepan added an empty-netter with 17.8 seconds remaining.

Montreal finished 0 for 3 on the power play, while New York converted its lone chance.

The Canadiens came out aggressive in the first period and had an 11-6 edge on shots, though half of the Rangers’ attempts came in the last 1:15 of the period.

Alexander Radulov tussled with Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh in front of the Canadiens goal about 5 minutes in. As that cleared up, Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty and New York rookie Jimmy Vesey dropped gloves and exchanged punches. The latter duo each received seven minutes of penalties.

Emelin, who returned to the lineup in Game 5 after missing the first four games, got the Canadiens on the scoreboard at 6:19 with his first career postseason goal. He beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. Radulov got an assist on the play for his seventh point of the series.

”We didn’t like the way we played in the first,” Stepan said. ”They came out with a big push. I don’t think our group thought that we were good enough to match that intensity. I thought we made adjustments. We understood there were still two periods of hockey left to play.”

NOTES: Montreal fell to 0-5 in Game 6 against the Rangers, including 0-3 at MSG. … None of the teams’ 16 playoff series has reached a Game 7. … The Rangers were 0 for 14 on the power play through the first five games before Zuccarello’s first goal on their only chance of Game 6. … Hayes and J.T. Miller had assists on Zuccarello’s second goal for the first point of the postseason for both.

Magnus Paajarvi scored in overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a series-clinching win over Minnesota.

The Blues now play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi’s first career playoff goal helped Blues coach Mike Yeo beat the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

In San Jose, Edmonton defeated the Sharks 3-1 to advance to the second round with a four-two series win.

Two breakaway goals by forwards Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev 56 seconds apart sealed it for the Oilers, for whom goalie Cam Talbot made 26 saves.

Patrick Marleau scored for San Jose while Oilers star Connor McDavid sealed the win with an empty-netter at the death.

The Oilers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 while the Sharks were defending Western Conference champions after reaching the Stanley Cup final for the first time last year.

All the NHL playoffs results from Saturday:

St. Louis Blues 4-3 Minnesota Wild (OT) (Game 5, Blues win series 4-1)
Montreal Canadiens 1-3 New York Rangers (Game 6, Canadiens win series 4-2)
Edmonton Oilers 3-1 San Jose Sharks (Game 6, Oilers win series 4-2)

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