Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- Demons erased. Bring on the circus.
The Washington Capitals wiped away the bad memory of last year's overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal by avoiding the extra session in Game 7 Tuesday night against the New York Rangers thanks to a veteran who's been around the block and back a few times.
Sergei Fedorov ripped home the series-clinching goal with 4:59 left in the third period, beating Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a short-side snap shot over his glove to give the Caps a 2-1 win and end one of the strangest and most memorable playoff series' in recent history.
The Capitals are just the 21st of 230 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in a series to come back and win it. Because they did and Carolina scored twice in the final two minutes in New Jersey, we've finally got the series that everyone has been waiting for since 2005.
Washington vs. Pittsburgh. Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby.
Game 1 is Saturday in D.C.
"We believed we could win the series," Ovechkin said in the winning dressing room Tuesday night as the sellout, raucous and celebratory Verizon Center crowd was filing out onto the District's streets. "We did it."
They did it by flipping the switch on the Rangers after two periods.
The Capitals were being dominated through the first 40 minutes as the Rangers, who fought all series long to keep the puck in the Caps' zone for extended periods of time, refused to give it up. They cycled and had the Caps' defensemen chasing -- while keeping Washington's forwards at bay.
The Rangers scored first just 5:35 into the game as Nik Antropov hammered home a loose puck in the high slot after Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov poked the puck away from Brandon Dubinsky.
Even though the Rangers were controlling the play, the Capitals struck back roughly 10 minutes later as Alexander Semin's wrist shot from the left circle was deflected twice before going past Lundqvist.
The Rangers outshot the Caps 8-2 in the first period, but the score was even at 1-1. The shots were 14-11 in favor of the Rangers after two periods, but the score remained the same -- 1-1.
"It was probably the most we kept the puck all series," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We couldn't develop good scoring chances even with the puck, and during the (third) period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little bit."
The Capitals actually turned it up quite a few notches.
Not only did they get 13 shots on Lundqvist in the third, they allowed the Rangers only one on Varlamov, who again made enough huge saves to keep his team in the game, including one with his right leg pad on Antropov's breakaway bid 42 seconds into the game.
Lundqvist came up big a few times in the third, including once with his right skate on a tipped point shot and another on a point-blank blast by Ovechkin. But the Capitals had scored 12 of their first 17 goals on his short side -- and that's where Fedorov went.
He got a headman pass from Matt Bradley and skated into the zone down the right wing. Fedorov got into the circle, pulled up by the dot and snapped off a high shot that went past a stationary Wade Redden and zipped over Lundqvist's glove and under the crossbar.
The crowd, buzzing throughout the third period after booing their Caps off the ice after the second, roared as the clock read 4:59.
"I didn't think too much about it," said Fedorov, who hadn't scored a goal in this series until that point. "Just entering the zone I wanted to make sure the puck went deep. The D gave me some room, so I stopped and chose to shoot. I knew the D was giving me short side. Henrik went down and I shot it top shelf short side. It's pretty standard for what we practice.
"It was a big deal for us because we really wanted to win and not experience last year."
As the seconds ticked off the clock high above center ice, the crowd's roar grew louder and louder, eventually reaching a deafening decibel. The press box was shaking.
Worse yet for the Rangers, amid the madness they couldn't get Lundqvist out of the net. The Capitals kept pushing the puck deep. They never stopped attacking. They kept going for the insurance goal.
"We just weren't able to get possession of it," Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said. "In those situations you feel the pressure and try to do a little bit too much. Maybe we were guilty of that."
Now that the Capitals can truly forget all about last year's overtime loss to Philadelphia, they can look forward to what lies ahead.
"It was a big deal for us because we really wanted to win and not experience last year.." -- Sergei Fedorov on the Capitals Game 7 win over the RangersIt's not only Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the defending Eastern Conference champions, but the entire atmosphere that should accompany what will arguably be the most hyped second round series in NHL history.
These seven games against the Rangers had everything you could imagine off the ice -- suspensions, biting allegations, a memorable back and forth between the coaches - but it will likely pale in comparison to what is coming next.
"That (series against New York) wasn't a circus," Boudreau said. "It wasn't Ringling Bros. We're playing Pittsburgh. Welcome to the circus."
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Sean Avery did all he could to create the Rangers' goal. Avery, with some help from Brandon Dubinsky, won a battle in the corner for the puck with Caps defenseman Brian Pothier. He worked the puck got it to Nik Antropov, who fed the puck low to Dubinsky. Dubinsky tried a toe-drag to get Simeon Varlamov off balance, but the goalie made a nice poke. Unfortunately, the puck went straight out to Antropov, who banged it home just 5:35 into the game. Love him or hate him -- there is no in-between -- Avery made the play happen with his toughness along the boards.
Amazingly, it's Alex Ovechkin. Yes, the biggest superstar in the series played a supporting role -- and he played it well. Ovechkin was again everywhere on the ice and was always noticeable when he was out there. In fact, it wouldn't unreasonable to think the Rangers, especially Wade Redden, were wondering where Ovechkin was when Fedorov ripped his winner from the right circle past Lundqvist with just 4:59 left. For the record, he was on the left side.
For the first time all series, the Rangers dominated the time of possession by holding the puck low in the attacking zone through the first two periods. The Caps' defensemen were chasing a lot, especially in the second period, but the Rangers didn't use the possession to get a lot of shots on Varlamov. They had only 14 through two periods, including just six in the second period when they were clearly the dominant team. Of course, when it mattered most, the Caps dominated and held the Rangers to just one shot in the third period while peppering Lundqvist with 13. Therein lies the reason they're moving on and the Rangers are going home.
The Caps, who entered Game 7 with 192 shots on goal in the series, amazingly had only two in the first period. Fortunately, one of them -- a shot by Alexander Semin that hit Ryan Callahan's stick and then his skate before ticking off Dan Girardi -- beat Henrik Lundqvist. The Caps were averaging 10.8 shots on goal per game in the first period until Tuesday night. That they got out of the first with a 1-1 tie is amazing and played a huge role the rest of the game.
Sergei Fedorov started to show his age a bit in this series, but the future Hall of Famer again showed why he is a future Hall of Famer. Fedorov scored the series winner with 4:59 to play in the game. He skated down the right wing boards after getting an outlet pass from Matt Bradley, stopped on a dime and blew a shot past Wade Redden and into the net beyond Lundqvist. It was another amazing moment for this amazing player.