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Caps beat Rangers 2-1 to force Game 7

by Dave Lozo
WASHINGTON -- The Capitals still have a pulse because Braden Holtby plays as if he doesn't have one.

The unflappable 22-year-old goaltender was fantastic once again after a loss and kept Washington's season alive, making 30 saves Wednesday night in the Capitals' 2-1 victory in Game 6 of Eastern Conference Semifinals against the top-seeded New York Rangers at Verizon Center.

Holtby is now 2-0 in the playoffs when facing elimination and 9-0 after a loss this season. His heroics were a big reason why the seventh-seeded Capitals were able to extend this series to a decisive seventh game that will take place Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The starting job became Holtby's after injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth late in the season, and he's run with it with ever since. His calm demeanor belies his 34 total games of NHL experience, but it's one of the characteristics that allow the rookie to bounce back so effortlessly after defeats.

Holtby hasn't lost two straight in his last 29 starts.

"You can look at him -- he's a calm dude over here, man," forward Joel Ward said, pointing out how Holtby was facing a throng of reporters with his arms folded across his chest at his locker. "Nothing fazes him. He's been like that since the Boston series, which is really impressive to go into that hostile environment with the defending champs. He's been unbelievable. You can tell in morning skates and in warmups he's just focused."

The only shot to get past him was the final one, when the Rangers' Marian Gaborik scored with 50.5 seconds remaining in regulation and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was sharp in making 21 saves, on the bench for an extra attacker. It was déjà vu for the Capitals, who let a one-goal lead slip away late in Game 5 and wound up losing in overtime to fall into a 3-2 series hole.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter said after that loss that he didn't need to say anything to Holtby to boost his confidence. It turns out he was absolutely right.

"That's the one thing I've learned that does help me out," Holtby said about taking things one shot at a time, no matter the situation. "It's a bunch of little things. It's just our group as well. It's not all just me when we bounce back from a loss."

For the second time in this series, the Capitals responded with an energetic first period following a crushing overtime defeat. The Rangers won 2-1 in a triple overtime in Game 3, but the Capitals scored the first goal early in Game 4 and went on to win.

In Game 6, it was the same story.

About a minute into the game, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone as the Caps raced up ice 3-on-3. A speeding Jason Chimera took advantage of the mix-up and beat Anton Stralman, who was compensating for McDonagh's error in judgment by sliding more toward the middle, down the left side to draw a tripping penalty.

Fifteen seconds later, Alex Ovechkin buried a one-timer from the high slot to put the Caps ahead 1-0 at 1:28 for his third goal of the series. Nicklas Backstrom picked up the primary assist and Mike Green was credited with the secondary helper, but Marcus Johansson allowed it all to happen by deflecting a clearing attempt and keeping the puck in the offensive zone after the Rangers won the faceoff.

Ovechkin played just 15:14, but had three shots, five hits and nearly scored the goal of the playoffs from the seat of his pants during the third period. The goal came with Ovechkin not working the point on the power play, which is his customary position.

"It's just one of those changes we make," Hunter said. "We thought that Ovi, with his big shot, could get a shot off. On the play, one of their players fell (Ryan Callahan) and really left an opening and a shot there by Ovi doesn't miss very often."

The Capitals made it 2-0 at 10:59 of the second period when Chimera scored his seventh career postseason goal -- and fifth all-time vs. the Rangers -- thanks to a fortunate bounce.

The play started with Caps forward Alexander Semin using his size and strength to win a battle along the boards against Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. Semin swung the puck to the other side of the ice for John Carlson, who fired a shot that hit the skate of Backstrom and bounced directly onto the stick of Chimera at the left post for a tap-in.

It wasn't how the Capitals drew it up, but it turned out to be the game-winner.

"He's been very good right from the start of the year," Hunter said. "He's got great speed and a big desire to win. That line, with Chimmer and (Backstrom) and (Semin) had a big game tonight. Chimmer was working his tail off killing penalties also, so he got more minutes."

Game 5 of this series turned against the Capitals when Ward took a four-minute high-sticking penalty in the final minute of regulation. The four-minute power play allowed the Rangers to score a pair of power-play goals and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

It looked as if the same thing could happen again in Game 6 when Jeff Halpern, inserted into the lineup for an ailing Jay Beagle, took a four-minute penalty for high sticking less than two minute after Chimera's goal.

History did not repeat itself in Game 6. Holtby stopped three shots early and the swarming Capitals didn't allow any others to reach their goaltender. Green had perhaps the best scoring chance during the power play, ripping a long shot that nearly beat Lundqvist to the top of the net.

The Capitals have killed 40 of 46 power plays (87 percent) in the playoffs.

"PK's been strong throughout the whole playoffs," Chimera said. "It's been unbelievable. Guys have been blocking shots, making a lot of sacrifices. Guys are doing a heck of a job."

If the Capitals can win a second consecutive Game 7 on the road in these playoffs Saturday, they will advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1998 -- the year they made their only trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We don't want to stop playing," Ovechkin said. "We don't want to finish the season. We knew we could beat them."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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