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Caps win 3-1 to eliminate Rangers

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals will do something Sunday they haven't done during the postseason since Bruce Boudreau became the coach in November 2008 -- rest and wait for other playoff series to conclude.

Alex Ovechkin had a highlight-reel goal and an assist and Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves as the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center and to wrap up their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in five games. For the first time in Boudreau's tenure -- a span of five postseason series -- Washington will not need the maximum seven games to decide a winner.

"We've never done it before. It is one of those things where I'll have to give my head a shake tomorrow morning and wonder where we're supposed to be playing," Boudreau said. "It is good because we have a lot of guys hurt, so you need the time off just to recuperate. That was a really tough series. It was done in five, but I think John (Tortorella) would say the same thing that either team could have won all five games."

Added Nicklas center Backstrom: "I think it is real important if you look at statistically. That is something, short series -- all the teams that has been winning have had at least one short series. It is good. This time of year you want to get a little extra break and make sure you practice good."

One year after yielding two goals in the first 10 minutes of Game 5 to Montreal, and eventually losing three straight games and the series after having a 3-1 lead, the Capitals had a dramatically different start in the same situation. Washington dominated possession of the puck in the opening 10 minutes against New York and sent a flurry of shots at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

"I think we learned our lesson," Backstrom said. "That's what we've been talking about. People were so disappointed with last year. This is only the first round. We have higher goals than this. It is fun tonight, but tomorrow we have to regroup and think about Round 2."

Mike Green gave Washington a lead it wouldn't relinquish with a power-play goal at 5:59. Lundqvist made a great glove save on Green's first attempt from the right circle. But he couldn't control the puck, and Green's rebound from a bad angle ended up behind the goaltender and under defenseman Dan Girardi -- but across the goal line for an extra-man tally.

The Rangers were able to survive about 13 minutes without Girardi, who appeared to injure himself in the post-goal scrum behind the Rangers net. He returned and New York  was able to reach the first intermission down only the one goal.

"Just being down 1-0 after that first period just felt like a good result the way (the Capitals) were playing," Lundqvist said. "We just had a tough time getting in front of creating good chances. I think (Neuvirth) had to make a lot of big saves until the end."

But Ovechkin doubled the lead at 7:04 of the second period with a brilliant individual effort. He collected a pass from Scott Hannan and raced down the right wing. Marc Staal thought he had the angle, but Ovechkin went around the All-Star defenseman and cut to the middle before flicking a backhanded shot above Lundqvist's blocker for his third goal of the series and a 2-0 advantage.

Alexander Semin ended any doubt about the outcome when he buried a 2-on-1 pass from rookie center Marcus Johansson late in the third period. Fans at a sold-out Verizon Center were already celebrating the series victory when Wojtek Wolski added a consolation tally with 31.5 seconds left.

Neuvirth allowed only two goals in the three home games in this series, and he went nearly six full periods without allowing one between the time New York went ahead 3-0 in the second period of Game 4 and Wolski's shutout-ending bid on Saturday.

"We had a huge start, and it was pretty hard on me," Neuvirth said. "We didn't have a pregame skate and I felt a little rusty, but the guys did an outstanding job getting a lot of shots for me from the outside and all series long that was a great team effort."

Now the Capitals will sit and wait for their next opponent. There are players who can use the time to heal. Both Green and Jason Arnott left this game with injuries, though Arnott returned to the ice and Green came back to the bench.  Boudreau said his star defenseman could have played if needed after taking a first-period shot off his helmet.

Mike Knuble, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti are all on the mend, though it remains to be seen if any of them will be ready for Game 1 of the next round, which will be at Verizon Center next week against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Montreal or Buffalo.

"It is pretty cool to have time to rest," Ovechkin said. "Right now we feel pretty good, but it is not over. It is just one step.

"Of course [there] is confidence. Last year when we have the lead at 3-1, we thought it was over and we was little bit relaxed. Right now everybody is focused and nobody has any relaxes. We're learning and again, we make one step. Tomorrow is another day and a new series."

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