Capitals 2 Rangers 1
WASHINGTON — Thanks to grizzled veteran Sergei Fedorov and a kid goalie with more career starts in the NHL post-season than the regular season, the Washington Capitals are headed to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
And they didn’t even need a star turn from Alex Ovechkin to complete their monumental comeback.
Fedorov beat Henrik Lundqvist with 4:59 left in the third period, rookie Simeon Varlamov was good in the net when he had to be, and the Capitals edged the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final Tuesday night.
Washington is the 21st team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-1.
“Let’s face it: Realistically, we should have won the first six games,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
It’s Washington’s first series victory since the 1997-98 season, when it reached the Stanley Cup finals. The success must feel particularly sweet to reigning league MVP Ovechkin and the 15 other players on the Capitals a year ago, when they also trailed 3-1 in the first round, and also forced a Game 7 at home — only to lose to Philadelphia in overtime.
Silent for stretches, even booing when the Capitals were tentative in the second period, the red-clad fans were loud as could be after Fedorov’s goal. Capitals players said their ears were ringing a half-hour afterward.
“They’ve really supported us and I really felt like we had to get a win for them tonight. We had to win,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “You can’t just have good seasons and not win in the playoffs.”
Still, the post-game celebration was kept to a minimum in the locker room.
“We have to try to keep our emotions,” Ovechkin said, “and get ready for the next round.”
Oh, and what a matchup that will be. The Capitals now play Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, a series pitting the past two NHL MVPs. Alex the Great versus Sid the Kid.
Ovechkin had scored in three consecutive games to help Washington get its rally started, but he was mostly silent Tuesday, about 48 hours after proclaiming Lundqvist “can’t play every game like a god.”
New York’s Nik Antropov and Washington’s Alexander Semin traded first-period goals, and the Rangers were controlling a lot of the action thereafter.
“I felt so good going into that third period,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, back on the bench after being suspended for squirting water on spectators and throwing a bottle into the stands in Game 5 at Washington.
But it was Fedorov, playing in his eighth career Game 7, who determined the outcome. He took a pass from Matt Bradley and, with Rangers defenceman Wade Redden screening Lundqvist, sent a shot inside the far post for the winner.
“There was not much going on,” Fedorov said, “so I decided to shoot the puck.”
Good decision. The first player over to celebrate with the 39-year-old Fedorov, a past NHL MVP who won three Stanley Cups with Detroit? Ovechkin, who hopped on the back of his teammate and countryman.