All the pieces click for Rangers

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NEW YORK -- We know of at least one fan who got into Madison Square Garden without a ticket Thursday night.

France St. Louis was there, all right, there was no mistaking it.

"I was talking to her the whole third period," Martin St. Louis said after the  New York Rangers advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals in 20 years after a series-clinching 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

A season that has included a trade request out of Tampa Bay, followed by the unexpected death of his mother, France, on May 8, now also includes a Stanley Cup finals appearance for St. Louis.

"It's unbelievable," said the 38-year-old native of Laval, Quebec. "Obviously, a tough year for me. ... If I would have thought that on May 8, to have a chance to go a Stanley Cup finals ..."

He stopped for a moment, collecting his thoughts.

"Everything that we've gone through as a team, these guys have been unbelievable, the support I got, going through some tough times," he said. "Just so much adversity for everyone. We found ways. Great bounce-back game tonight. That was New York Rangers hockey tonight."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault felt it was his team's best game of the playoffs, and we don't disagree.

Just two days after embarrassing themselves defensively in a 7-4 loss at Montreal, the Blueshirts delivered a defensive gem, suffocating the Habs and limiting them to only 18 shots on goal and very few scoring chances.

Not surprisingly whatsoever, Rangers stud netminder Henrik Lundqvist bounced back from being pulled in the previous game. It's what he does.

His best save on this night came when Thomas Vanek's rebound attempt looked headed for the back of the net in the second period before Lundqvist went all Dominik Hasek and, with a windmill motion, batted the puck away with his blocker.

"Yeah, that was ridiculous," said Rangers blueliner Marc Staal. "That was a huge save. It changes the whole complexion of the game, a huge save like that."

But it wasn't just about Lundqvist. Do not for a moment underestimate the amount of credit that Vigneault's coaching staff deserves here in preparing the Rangers for a night-and-day performance from Game 5, finding a way to communicate what was needed to happen for their trip to the Cup finals to become a reality.

Vigneault said it himself Thursday night: No one on his team wanted to head back to Montreal for a seventh game on a Saturday night in the NHL's most passionate market.

"At that point, it's going to feel like you're playing against 4 million people," a Western Conference coach said earlier in the day.

In other words, Game 6 was really Game 7 for the Rangers. They had to wrap this up now.

And did they ever. They wrapped it up by completely shutting down the Habs and riding Dominic Moore's second-period tally to victory -- booking their finals ticket exactly one year to the day after they fired coach John Tortorella.

Pretty unbelievable, really.

Step back for a moment and remember that this club began the season dropping seven of their first 10 games under their new coach. Imagine Vigneault's reaction, we asked him Thursday night, had somebody phoned him up after that start and told him he'd be in the Stanley Cup finals this season.

"Probably would have said: 'What are you smoking?'" Vigneault said with a laugh.

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