WASHINGTON - Thanks to grizzled veteran Sergei Fedorov and a monumental comeback, the Washington Capitals are headed to the second round of the NHL playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Fedorov beat Henrik Lundqvist with 4:59 left in the third period, and the Capitals edged the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 on Tuesday night, becoming the 21st team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-1.
It's also the franchise's first series victory since the 1997-98 season, when Washington made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. It must feel particularly sweet to the 16 players who were on the team a year ago, when the Capitals also trailed 3-1 in the first round, and also forced a Game 7 at home - only to lose to Philadelphia in overtime.
The Capitals will face Pittsburgh or New Jersey next.
Fedorov, a past NHL MVP who won three Stanley Cups with Detroit, took a pass from Matt Bradley on his winner and, with Rangers defenceman Wade Redden screening Lundqvist, sent a shot inside the far post. After the goal, Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin hopped on the back of his teammate and countryman.
New York's Nik Antropov and Washington's Alexander Semin traded first-period goals.
Ovechkin had scored in three consecutive games but was mostly silent Tuesday, two days after proclaiming Lundqvist "can't play every game like a god."
Lundqvist was pretty good in Game 7, and Capitals rookie Simeon Varlamov settled down after an early flurry of activity. Varlamov got a lot of help: Washington limited New York to one shot in the third period.
Things didn't start that way. The Rangers tested Varlamov twice in the opening 45 seconds, with Sean Avery taking a shot, then Antropov coming in 1-on-1 and unsuccessfully trying to stuff a backhander past the goalie's right skate.
The Capitals looked flat, and the Rangers took the game's first five shots. It didn't take long for New York to lead.
Brandon Dubinsky skated around Varlamov, keeping control of the puck and sending it through a Capitals player's legs back to Antropov, who scored his first goal since Game 1.
Ovechkin picked up the puck, then skated over to fling it over the boards into the Capitals bench area. Avery - like Antropov a late-season addition - earned a secondary assist.
The Capitals had no official shots until 13 minutes in, when Tom Poti's attempt from the point on a power play was easily kicked aside by Lundqvist. The hosts were held to fewer than three shots in a period for the first time all season.
But Washington's second shot found the net, basically by accident, to tie the game at 15:34. Nicklas Backstrom left the puck behind him for Semin, who ripped a shot right as New York's Ryan Callahan dived. The puck appeared to deflect off Callahan at least once, if not twice, and possibly off another New York player, fooling a sprawling Lundqvist as it fluttered end-over-end above his left skate.
Capitals tough guy Donald Brashear was out, suspended by the NHL for six games - five for a hit that broke a bone near Rangers centre Blair Betts' eye in Game 6.
"It's like not having your big brother in the lineup to protect you," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Betts, New York's top penalty-killing forward, missed Game 7.
Brashear's was the second suspension of a contentious series. Rangers coach John Tortorella was back after being barred from Game 6 for squirting water on spectators and throwing a plastic drinking bottle into the stands during Game 5 in Washington.
The Rangers wrote a letter to the league, complaining about taunting by fans. The Capitals responded by preparing to have extra security guards in that area, if needed, and by plugging the 2.5-centimetre gaps between the panes of glass separating that bench from spectators.
Still, some fans near the bench wore red ponchos Tuesday. Another twirled a red umbrella with the inscription, "4 U Torts."
There was plenty of gamesmanship and intrigue throughout the series: Ovechkin was ordered not to watch the Rangers practice before Game 3; Tortorella benched Avery for Game 5 for accumulating undisciplined penalties; Dubinsky accused Washington's Shaone Morrisonn of biting him; and Boudreau risked going with Varlamov in place of 2002 league MVP Jose Theodore after a 4-3 loss in Game 1.
That last move looks brilliant now: Varlamov allowed seven goals in six games against New York.
Notes: With Brashear out, Capitals captain Chris Clark played for the first time since January; he was sidelined by wrist surgery. ... Betts was replaced by Artem Anisimov, brought up from the minors.