Ward’s late goal lifts Capitals over Rangers in series opener

Joel Ward wanted Alex Ovechkin to hear him over the din at Madison Square Garden. So, the depth forward screamed at his superstar teammate. Maybe he should do it more often.

NEW YORK — Joel Ward wanted Alex Ovechkin to hear him over the din at Madison Square Garden.

So, the depth forward screamed at his superstar teammate.

Maybe he should do it more often.

Ward got Ovechkin’s attention and drove the Russian’s feed past Henrik Lundqvist with 1.3 seconds left to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night in Game 1 of their second-round series.

“I took a hard whack at it and it went in,” Ward said.

After the goal was confirmed by replay, Ovechkin kissed Ward on the cheek.

“I heard (Ward) screaming so loud,” Ovechkin said. “I just wanted to throw the puck (to him). As soon as I went to the bench and I saw the replay, it was a clear goal. We’ll take it.”

Following a mostly ceremonial faceoff, the teams skirmished at centre ice, sparked by New York’s displeasure that Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t penalized for hitting Dan Boyle from behind on the play that led to Ward’s goal. To a man, the Rangers acknowledged that they let up, expecting referees Chris Rooney and Kelly Sutherland to blow the play dead.

“I saw (Boyle) get hit (and) go down,” defenceman Ryan McDonagh said. “I kind of hesitated.”

Ovechkin opened the scoring with a power play goal with 1:47 remaining in the first period. Jesper Fast tied it with 4:39 left in the third, tipping Kevin Hayes’ point shot past goalie Braden Holtby.

Holtby made 31 saves, and Lundqvist stopped 27 shots.

Game 2 is Saturday in New York.

“I don’t care,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said, when asked if the 12:30 p.m. start for Game 2 could benefit his team. “We’ll play whatever time the game is.”

The Capitals ended a two-game losing streak against New York in the playoffs. Washington also lost three of the four regular-season meetings with the Rangers.

“They’re a very talented team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said about the Rangers, who finished the regular season with the most wins in franchise history. “There’s a reason that they finished No. 1 in the regular season.”

In the first period, with New York centre Dominic Moore in the penalty box for holding, Ovechkin carried the puck into the offensive zone and whipped a shot past Lundqvist from the top of the left circle for his third goal of the playoffs.

In 27 career playoff games against the Rangers, Ovechkin has 11 goals and 10 assists. He led the NHL during the regular season with 53 goals, 25 power-play goals and 11 game-winning goals.

Ovechkin’s goal was Washington’s first playoff score against Lundqvist in 138:13 dating to Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

“He’s a rare talent in this league,” Trotz said about Ovechkin. “He’s very similar to Mark Messier. Those rare talents that can play a very heavy game (and) intimidate you with speed. He can intimidate you with his skill and his physicality.”

Holtby was aided by some misfires from New York’s shooters.

In the second, Carl Hagelin pushed Fast’s cross-ice feed wide of the net. Later in the period, Derick Brassard couldn’t jam a loose puck in the crease past Holtby.

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