NEW YORK — When it was over, Guy Boucher was asked to explain Erik Karlsson.
A wide grin crossed Boucher's face as the press conference room on Madison Square Garden's fifth floor dissolved into laughter.
"I'm glad he's on my team," Boucher said, a few minutes after Karlsson scored and added an assist to lead the Ottawa Senators to a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal on Tuesday night.
"Like all the other top quality stars that evolve into winners — whether it's the (Sidney) Crosbys or those guys — that's what he has," Boucher said.
"That's why those stars become winners."
The Senators have reached the Eastern Conference final for the third time in franchise history, making it that deep into the playoffs in 2003 and 2007.
Ottawa won its best-of-seven series with New York 4-2, and awaits the winner of the Penguins-Capitals semi.
Game 7 of that series is Wednesday at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
"We want more," said Mark Stone, who along with Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau also scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson stopped 37-of-39 shots.
Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored for New York. Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves.
For the second time in three years, the Rangers' season ended on home ice. And for 22nd straight year, they begin their summer without a Stanley Cup to celebrate.
"It's an emotional and tough loss for everybody," New York coach Alain Vigneault said.
This might be the most painful defeat as Lundqvist turned 35 earlier this season, and there has been season-long speculation that general manager Jeff Gorton may attempt to either trade or buy out veteran defencemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal in an attempt to get younger and free up salary cap space.
According to CapFriendly.com, New York has 18 players signed to NHL contracts worth US$63.8 million, and has $9.2 million in available cap space. The Rangers have six restricted free agents (Zibanejad, Brandon Pirri, Jesper Fast, Matt Puempel, Oscar Lindberg and Adam Clendening) and two unrestricted free agents (Tanner Glass and Brendan Smith).
"We are just going to have to wait and see," Lundqvist said. "All you feel is disappointment and it's a numb feeling. It's not a great feeling."
Hoffman deftly redirected Karlsson's slap pass from the point 4:27 into the game to stop the Senators' series-long trend of allowing the game-opening goal. Karlsson began the sequence which culminated with Hoffman's fourth of the playoffs by blocking a Nick Holden shot before leading the rush up-ice.
Ottawa very nearly took a 2-0 lead with 6:49 left in the period on a Karlsson slapshot from the right wing, but Lundqvist made a dazzling glove save as he fell to the ice. But there was nothing the New York goalkeeper could do on Stone's goal 1:36 later.
Stone's goal, his fourth of the playoffs, was challenged by Vigneault as the Rangers believed Kyle Turris was offside. A review upheld the ruling on the ice.
"That was something we needed," Karlsson said about playing with a lead. "We took care of the few (offensive opportunities) we got and made it hard for them to get through the neutral zone and create anything really dangerous."
Zibanejad, an ex-Senator, halved the lead with a snapshot past Anderson's glove at 13:32 of the second period.
The goal was Zibanejad's second of the playoffs. But for all intents and purposes, Karlsson's snapshot from the low slot at 15:53 ended the series. The goal was his second of the playoffs and his 13th point overall. It also finished a chain in which Mats Zuccarello's diving, desperate cross-ice pass to Zibanejad was knocked away, leading to Karlsson's counterattack with Bobby Ryan.
"That's what special players do," Stone said of Karlsson. "He's, for me, a one-of-a-kind player. You don't see guys do what he does on a night-to-night basis."
Kreider's third of the playoffs 53 seconds into the third cut the Senators' lead to 3-2. Kreider had a chance to tie the game nearly five minutes later, but Anderson's pad save kept Ottawa ahead. New York pressed in the third, but couldn't score the tying goal. The Rangers outshot Ottawa, 15-5, in the period and 38-26 for the game.
"We had a lot of chances that I think we let slip through our fingers," New York centre Derek Stepan said.
Pageau's empty-netter with seven seconds left in the third ended the scoring.
Amongst the 18,006 in attendance were tennis legend John McEnroe, comedian John Oliver, Canadian singer Paul Anka, actress Debra Messing, actor Cuba Gooding Jr., and retired New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck.