-- It's just one round, just one step up the biggest hill in the sport.
That's what the Washington Capitals
were trying to remind themselves less than 30 minutes after taking out the New York Rangers
with a 2-1 victory Tuesday night in front of a deafening sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
"It's exciting, but this game is over and we have to try to keep our emotion in check," Alex Ovechkin
sent the Capitals to the Eastern Conference Semifinals when his short-side snap shot from inside the right circle whipped over Henrik Lundqvist
's catching glove with 4:59 left.
The roar inside the building was deafening as the final seconds ticked off and the Caps became just the 21st team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit. Inside the winning dressing room there was a sense of calm, satisfaction, relief and excitement -- and this was before the Capitals learned they would be opening the next round at home Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins
(1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
"We're excited to be moving on and having a chance to play again," Capitals forward Brooks Laich
said. "There was shades of last year (an overtime loss in Game 7 to Philadelphia), and it's always in the back of your mind that you really don't want to go through it again. But I think going through that experience and that heartbreak last year really helped in this series, especially when we were down 3-1 and forced it back to Game 7. It wasn't just our goal to get here; it was our goal to win here. It was a more experienced group and it helped us here."
That Pittsburgh is their opponent only ratchets up the intensity of this playoff season. It's the one matchup that most hockey fans (outside of Philadelphia and the New York metropolitan area) wanted to see: Ovechkin on the same ice with Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
in the playoffs.
"I think they're an awful lot different team (than the Rangers)," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
said. "They're a much different team, as New York was a different team. It's going to be tough, there's no doubt. They're the defending Eastern Conference champion. They played for the Stanley Cup. They know what it's all about. We're happy to be participating.
"I think it'll be great for hockey, and it'll be great for TV, too."
That's for sure, but the Capitals weren't thinking about that Tuesday night. They were just happy to have come out with a win so they could forget about last year's loss to Philadelphia in Game 7 and avoid being called a bunch of first-round chokers.
"I think everyone had it in them, the feeling last year of what it felt like to lose, and this year we weren't going to fall short," defenseman Mike Green
said. "It didn't surprise me that we came out and won."
"It could be a pressure-is-off kind of thing," fellow defenseman Brian Pothier
said. "Hey, we're going to show up at the rink (Wednesday) and we're probably not even going to talk about this game, we're going to talk about the next series. There isn't even enough time to think about those things. We have certain expectations in our room and we're going to work as hard as we can to accomplish those goals."
They needed some reinforcement on that after two periods.
The Capitals were outplayed by the Rangers through 40 minutes and were lucky to still be tied 1-1. Pothier said a couple of guys stood up in the dressing room during the intermission and said, "This is the time, this is the moment. This is Game 7. This is the moment."
"The guys responded really well," Pothier said.
The Capitals flipped the switch on the Rangers, outshooting them 13-1 in the third period and outscoring them 1-0 to advance.
"I think last year we could have beat Philly, too, but we missed out," Ovechkin said. "Last year is history. Now we made history this year."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com