WASHINGTON - Thanks principally to Matt Bradley - yes, Matt Bradley, not Alex Ovechkin or another of Washington's stars - the Capitals get to keep playing this season.
Bradley scored his first two playoff goals, Ovechkin added a highlight-reel tally, rookie Simeon Varlamov posted his second shutout of the opening round, and the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 4-0 in Game 5 on Friday night to avoid elimination.
The seventh-seeded Rangers, who played without Sean Avery, lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading to Game 6 in New York on Sunday.
Alexander Semin also scored for No. 2 Washington, and the Rangers pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist after two periods, replacing him with Steve Valiquette.
It was an all-around lousy trip to the nation's capital for Rangers coach John Tortorella, who used a towel to wipe off his gray suit jacket after it appeared a spectator spilled something on him in the third period.
The Capitals are in a familiar position: They also faced a 3-1 deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round last season before rallying to win Games 5 and 6 - only to lose Game 7 at home in overtime.
Knowing they need to win three consecutive games, Washington picked up some momentum Friday from an unlikely source. Bradley is a 30-year-old right wing who never recorded a goal in 21 previous career post-season games.
Indeed, Bradley ranked 17th on the Capitals in points during the regular season - behind Ovechkin and Semin and Mike Green, of course, but also trailing some stay-at-home defencemen - with a total of five goals, only one over the final 42 games.
Yet Bradley put the puck in the net twice in a span of less than 7 1/2 minutes Friday. The first goal was short-handed and came on the game's first shot, before five minutes had elapsed.
Several Capitals skated over to pile on Bradley, knocking him to the ice.
Then, 12:07 in, Bradley squeezed the puck past Lundqvist from a seemingly impossible angle beside the net. Suddenly, it was Bradley 2, Rangers 0, and he was receiving celebratory head-butts on the helmet from Ovechkin.
Lundqvist, so good earlier in the series, particularly Games 2 and 4, was serenaded by loud taunts of "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" from the red-clad crowd. Those taunts returned 4:57 into the second period, when Semin's fourth goal of the series made it 3-0.
Ovechkin led the league in goals each of the past two seasons and is the reigning MVP, but Lundqvist held him without a goal until Game 4. Now Ovechkin has scored in consecutive games, and the latest ranks with his masterpieces - look for it on YouTube.
The Russian left wing brought the puck across the blue line and, moving to his right, swept past Rangers captain Chris Drury. Then, swerving to his left, Ovechkin curled around Derek Morris while passing the puck to himself through the defenseman's legs.
Approaching the net, Ovechkin found Aaron Voros hanging on his back. As both fell to the ice - Ovechkin face-first, Voros hanging on like a football tackler - Ovechkin lifted a backhander past Lundqvist with 29 seconds left in the second period.
That's when the "M-V-P!" chants began, and they didn't subside until Ovechkin left for the locker room.
He had riled up the home crowd right at the start, too, by slamming Rangers forward Scott Gomez against the boards.
Gomez retaliated by hitting Ovechkin with his stick, drawing a slashing penalty 76 seconds into the game. Washington didn't convert that chance but, when the Rangers were given their first power play, Bradley scored at the other end.
Perhaps the Rangers missed Avery, their only scratch Friday.
His benching came after he was called for two penalties in the final 10 minutes of New York's 2-1 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday. He also took four minor penalties and a misconduct in Game 3.
Notes: The last time an NHL team came back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series was in 2004, when Montreal did it against Boston. ... Varlamov registered Washington's first home playoff shutout since 2001. He's allowed three goals in four games since taking over for veteran Jose Theodore after Washington's Game 1 loss. ... Valiquette made his NHL playoff debut.