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Monday’s Three Stars: Smith shuts out Hawks; Rangers force Game 7

Harrison Mooney
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No. 1 Star: Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes were outshot by the Chicago Blackhawks 39 to 20 in Game 6, but it hardly mattered. As this save on Brendan Morrison will illustrate, nothing was getting past Mike Smith on this night.

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Smith stopped every shot he faced in arguably the best goaltending performance of the 2012 postseason and the Coyotes finally managed to extend the lead rather than cough it up in the final frame. The result: a 4-0 series-clinching win. The Coyotes advance to the 2nd round for the first time since 1986. They'll play the Nashville Predators.

No. 2 Star: Derek Stepan, New York Rangers

Stepan was in on all 3 goals the Rangers scored during a second period offensive outburst. It was all the offense they'd need, fending off the Ottawa Senators with a 3-2 victory and sending the series back to Madison Square Garden for a winner-takes-all Game 7.

No. 3 Star: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes

The blueliner opening the scoring for the Coyotes in the second period on a goal that would stand up as the game and series-winner. He added a helper on Antoine Vermette's backbreaking third period powerplay goal and had 4 of Phoenix's 20 shots in a game-high 26:50 of ice time.

[ Also: Ottawa Senator Chris Neil drops the gloves with Rangers' Prust ]

Honorable mention: Chris Neil was involved in pretty much everything that happened between the Senators and the Rangers. He scored a goal, fought Brandon Prust, and was one of the best Senators on the ice all game ...  Chris Kreider's first NHL goal stood up as the game-winner in Ottawa:

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Did you know? The Rangers haven't hosted a Game 7 since their 1994 Stanley Cup win, and MSG hasn't seen one at all since the Indiana Pacers beat the New York Knicks in the NBA's Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1995, the year of Reggie Miller's legendary 8 points in 9 seconds. [AP]

Dishonorable mention: Here's the only moment where Smith wasn't amazing:

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My favorite thing is that he still manages to play the puck, even after getting up and being swarmed by players. Presence of mind ... the officiating in the Rangers/Senators tilt infuriated everyone ... Jimmy Hayes' hit on Michael Roszival was stupid and ill-timed ... And finally, Daniel Alfredsson seems upset about something:

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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