Bradley brings Caps back

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.

New York Ranger Nik Antropov is stopped by Washington Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov as he is hauled down by Brian Pothier during the Capitals 4-0 win on Friday in Washington to stay alive

Capitals 4 Rangers 0

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.

“We never give up. We fight. We love the situation,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard, but we love it.”

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.

“Something has to give with our top guys. I’m not trying to insult them. We have some great guys in that room,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who threw a plastic drinking bottle into the stands during a third-period confrontation with a fan. “This is a game where your best players have to be your best players, and it won’t happen until our best players are our best players — not kids.”

Alexander Semin also scored for No. 2 Washington, and the Rangers pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist after two periods, replacing him with Steve Valiquette.

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 71/2 minutes Friday. The first goal was shorthanded 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.

“I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t try to score like that,” he said. “I was just trying to get it on net.”

Suddenly, it was Bradley 2, Rangers 0, and he was receiving celebratory head-butts on the helmet from Ovechkin.

“Brads is the superstar tonight,” Green said. “He’s a guy who works hard, plays few minutes, and for him to step up like that tonight — he carried the team in the first period.”

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