WASHINGTON (AP) -Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the young Washington Capitals stars were still trying to figure out how to win a Game 7, and it showed in a tentative performance that had the usually loyal red-clad home fans booing in the second period.
It took an old master to deliver the lesson - and rescue the Capitals from what could have been a first-round exit for the second year in a row.
Thirty-nine-year-old Sergei Fedorov - the one playing in his 1,424th NHL game, the one with three Stanley Cup titles from the great Detroit Red Wings teams, one of only three players on the entire Capitals roster ever to be on the winning team in a Game 7 - made a veteran move with the score tied late in the game.
Coming down the right wing, he slammed on the brakes in the right circle to get some space against defenseman Wade Redden, then put his shot above goalie Henrik Lundqvist's left shoulder with 4:59 to play for the game-winner Tuesday night in Washington's 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
"Let's face it, experience sometimes pays off," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He knew what he had to do, when to do it. That's what makes him one of the greatest players ever."
The Capitals became the 21st team in NHL history to advance after trailing 3-1, and a franchise that hadn't won a playoff series in more than a decade took a huge psychological step forward after falling at the exact same hurdle last season. Reigning MVP Ovechkin's first taste of the postseason was last year's seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, so - unlike Fedorov - he could get away with celebrating as if he'd won something bigger.
"He is still excited, bouncing around in the locker room right now, to be honest with you," Fedorov said. "I tried to get away from him because he already tackled me down once."
Said Ovechkin: "We did it. This year we make everything history."
The victory also extends the remarkable run of rookie Simeon Varlamov, the 21-year-old goalie who now has more career postseason starts (6) than regular season starts (5). The Capitals will face their longtime playoff nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the next round, renewing the rivalry between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Game 1 is Saturday in Washington.
For the Rangers, the loss ended an eventful series that followed a challenging regular season. Coach Tom Renney was fired in February and replaced by John Tortorella, who got New York into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed despite a lack of offensive firepower - and then had a 3-1 series lead on the second-seeded Capitals.
But the Capitals' fans got to Tortorella in Game 5. He squirted water at spectators and threw a water bottle into the stands, getting himself suspended for Game 6.
"I regret not being there," Tortorella said. "I'm part of the team. I want to be with the team. Do I think that had an effect as far as the outcome? No. ... I don't think that had a bad effect on the hockey club because it is about the players. It's not about the coaches this time of year."
While Games 5 and 6 were routs in favor of the Capitals, the Rangers had Washington on its heels for much of Game 7. New York's Nik Antropov and Washington's Alexander Semin traded first-period goals, but Semin's came on a fluky double-deflection.
But the Rangers had only one shot on goal in a tense third period, and it took old guy Fedorov - with his first goal since April 7 - to settle the series.
"You look back, and you say: We had 'em down, we had our foot on 'em," Rangers center Brandon Dubinksy said, "and we let 'em up."
At Newark, N.J., the Hurricanes shocked the Devils in Game 7 with two late goals to advance to a matchup with top-seeded Boston in the second round.
Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal scored in a 48-second span late in the third period. It was the second shocking loss for the Devils in the series. They lost Game 4 on a goal by Jokinen with 0.2 seconds to play.
This time they gave away the series in the final 1:20.
Jokinen tied the game after taking a great cross-ice setup by Joni Pitkanen. Staal then buried the Devils with a shot from the middle of the right circle with 31.7 seconds to play.