WASHINGTON -- Jason Arnott was added by the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline to give the team a veteran center with size and Stanley Cup Playoffs experience. He was also brought in to play next to Alexander Semin -- and one game into this year's playoffs, that pairing is already a success.
Arnott set up Semin for the game-winning goal 18:24 into overtime -- the Russian wing's first in 15 playoff contests -- and the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 2-1 in the opening game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
The Rangers grabbed a lead early in the third period, and missed opportunities earlier in the game provided flashbacks of last season for the Capitals. But Alex Ovechkin sent the game into overtime and his next-door neighbor in the dressing room gave Washington the series lead. The Caps, the top seed in the East, host Game 2 on Friday night.
"It is huge for us," defenseman Mike Green said. "Obviously it is a seven-game series and anything can happen, but we wanted to get off to a great start and especially in our building here. We have home-ice advantage, and we need to take advantage of that."
After a fast start to overtime, play bogged down as players from both teams looked tired. Washington had the puck more but neither side created many quality scoring chances.
Someone was going to have to make a mistake -- and that ended up being the Rangers. Chris Drury failed to get the puck out along the left wall, and then Arnott intercepted Marc Staal's clearing attempt.
Arnott gloved down Staal's attempted clear at the right point, then sent a pass to Semin in the slot for a one-timer past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was Semin's first playoff goal since Game 7 of the first round in 2009 against this same team in this same building.
"For our team, we're not getting anywhere without Alex Semin scoring," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Just look at the regular season -- [Ovechkin] got 32, he got 27 and then Mike [Knuble] got 24 and after that it drops off. We need him to go to create that other offensive threat. I thought the shot -- I mean I could barely see it. I thought Arnott made a great play to keep it in and he didn't hesitate. It was a great shot."
Added Arnott: "You get a guy like that scoring and get his confidence up – he's very talented. We're still working on him in the defensive zone, and that's more important than anything else. You just try to tell him to play solid defensively and the goals will come and offensive opportunities will come. We're starting to get that."
Matt Gilroy gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 1:56 into the third period. Brandon Prust knocked John Erskine off the puck behind the Washington net and cycled it to Wojtek Wolski. He sent a pass to Gilroy cutting in from the right point, and the second-year defenseman ripped a one-timer past Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth for his first career playoff goal.
"Obviously we didn't get that second one, but I think we did a lot of good things," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "They have a lot of talent and it is going to be a tough series. ... We're obviously not happy with the outcome but we're going to regroup and be positive for Game 2."
Ovechkin tied the score with 6:16 left in regulation, but not before a lengthy review confirmed the goal. Semin had the first couple of whacks at the puck while Ovechkin screened Lundqvist from being able to get to a loose puck near the left post. Eventually Ovechkin turned and was able to stuff the puck through Lundqvist's pads before the net came off and the Rangers goaltender fell back into his cage.
The Capitals had the better of the chances in the first period but couldn't break through. Knuble and Ovechkin were open near the edge of the crease but couldn't make contact with bouncing pucks, while Semin and Arnott rang shots off the crossbar.
The missed chances continued in the first half of the second period. Knuble collected a cross-ice pass from Ovechkin and rang a shot off the right post. The carom came into Nicklas Backstrom's path, but Backstrom became the third Washington player to whiff with an empty net to shoot at.
"I was pleased that we got a goal," Boudreau said. "I didn't know at one point if there was ever going to be a way to beat that guy. Sometimes you need a greasy goal like that and it sparks your team."
Backstrom had a breakaway later in the second period, but Lundqvist deflected his backhanded attempt to go five-hole with the inside of his right leg and the puck deflected wide of the net.
Marian Gaborik had New York's best chance in the second period when he was alone at the edge of the crease, but the pass from behind the net was between his skates and he wasn't able to get much on the shot so Neuvirth was able to slide across and stop it.
Neuvirth made his first career NHL playoff start for the Capitals, beating out Semyon Varlamov for the nod and he made 24 saves. Lundqvist, who was great against Washington two postseasons ago early in the series before faltering late, turned aside 31 shots.
"[Neuvirth] was very confident, very focused on the puck and the game," Ovechkin said. "In the second period Gaborik have a great opportunity to score a goal and he makes a huge save to keep us in the game. I think both goalies play very well. Both teams score three goals, but I think it is going to be games like that the whole series."
Washington was the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season but eighth-seeded Montreal pulled off a stunning upset in seven games. Great goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and missed chances by the Capitals were dominant storylines in that series as well.
The Rangers may have missed a chance to steal one on the road, but Game 2 here Friday night will present another opportunity.
"It was a pretty tight game I think," Lundqvist said. "We battled the whole night ... We just have to have a short memory and move on and be ready for the next one. Overall, I think we played a pretty good game."
1 - 0 NYR