Washington won the special teams battle Thursday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a 3-1 win at Verizon Center.
Not only did the Capitals finally convert on their fourth power play of the game, they preserved what at the time midway through the second period was a 1-1 tie by killing off a Rangers' power play that lasted 3:04, including 56 seconds of 5-on-3.
The Capitals were 4-for-4 on the PK and 1-for-5 on the PP, which overcame early-game jitters that nearly cost Washington a shorthanded goal against.
"The first power plays we feel a little bit nervous, maybe just not in the game," said Alex Ovechkin, who scored Washington's power-play goal. "After that we settled down, made simple plays, and you see. When we tried to make a cute play in the neutral zone they used it [for a shorthanded chance]. We just need to make a simple one and it worked."
As big as Ovechkin's power-play goal was for the Capitals -- he scored it at 6:59 of the second period to tie the game 1-1 -- their penalty kill was as important. That's somewhat surprising; Washington had the 27th-ranked PK in the NHL this season even though it was 28-for-33 (84.8 percent) over the final 12 games of the regular season.
"We've been good lately," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said of the PK. "It's hard to come back percentage-wise when we were where we were at the start of the year. Our penalty kill is right up there with the League's best now."
The Rangers had chances on the power play, but the Capitals did a good job of clearing space in front of Holtby so he could see the shots that got on net. Washington also blocked eight shots on the PK.
"Our power play had some great looks," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We had some big shots, some rebounds there and just weren't able to find that third one. Give credit to them because they cleared the crease pretty well, but we were getting there, getting to the front of the net to score goals."
The Rangers' problem was their parade to the penalty box in the first half of the game. New York committed four penalties in the first 26:26, including a too many men on the ice penalty 34 seconds after the faceoff.
Washington gifted New York a couple of shorthanded chances early in the game, one which required Holtby to make a save on Carl Hagelin's breakaway, but Ovechkin finally came through with his power-play goal to reverse the momentum.
"You don't want to get into a power-play, back-and-forth frenzied game with them," McDonagh said. "Obviously Game 1 is going to be pretty emotional, pretty physical. They had their chances and we had our chances on the power play and weren't able to capitalize. I think next time around we'll be smarter and just be aware of not trying to take penalties. We just need to be smart."