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CAPITALS: Early Goals Crucial Late As Washington Forces Game 7

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – When Marian Gaborik scored with 50.5 seconds remaining, Braden Holtby knew the goal was not going to start another New York Rangers rally. Not again. Not on Wednesday.

It didn’t matter – the Rangers didn’t have a chance to. New York couldn’t muster another shot afterward, and the Capitals, ahead by two goals for nearly half the game, forced a decisive Game 7 with a 2-1 victory over the Rangers at Verizon Center on Wednesday.

The Capitals were ahead by one goal for much of Game 5 in New York on Monday, but saw the lead evaporate with 7.6 seconds left before eventually falling in overtime.

A similar double-minor penalty for high-sticking came midway through the second period, though the Capitals were able fight through it and hold strong even when the Rangers pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 2:40 to play.

“I don’t think that crept into any of our heads,” said Holtby, who stopped 30 shots. “It’s just a thing that happened in the game. Four-minute penalties happen, and we did a good job killing it off.”

Alex Ovechkin scored 1:28 in on a power play and Jason Chimera added the difference midway through the second period for Washington, which led by two for the first time since Game 2. The Capitals had plenty of chances – a pass through the legs in the crease, a clank off the crossbar – that it could have just as easily been a four- or five-goal game.

Through much of their rollercoaster postseason, the Capitals remained loose, jovial and excitable in the locker room. Players said that approach, coming from Hunter, has helped; their attitude for Game 7 against Boston was to go out, play hockey and have fun.

Things were considerably different before the game Wednesday, with more desperation apparent. Players spoke of trying to maintain a focused, emotionless approach – one they hoped would lead to a fast start with an early goal.

That’s what they got with Ovechkin’s power play one-timer – a goal manufactured through strong passing at the blue line between Mike Green and John Carlson. When Carlson sent the puck forward to Nicklas Backstrom, he in turn sent it back to Ovechkin in the high slot, who pulled back with the one-timer and his 30th career playoff goal, tying him with Peter Bondra for the most in franchise history.

“We had a good start there and then we just kept going,” Backstrom said.

Chimeras goal, 10:59 into the second period, came on even strength and was also assisted by Backstrom, but it wasn’t as well-orchestrated. Carlson’s slap shot from the right point deflected off Backstrom’s left leg and to Chimera on the left side of the crease, who had the early dump-in on a tied-up Lundqvist.

“He’s been very good right from the start of the year,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said of Chimera, who scored his fourth playoff goal. “He’s got great speed and a big desire to win.”

Lundqvist had 21 saves, while Washington blocked 24 of the Rangers’ shots. Only Gaborik’s late slap shot, which glanced off Carlson before heading into the net, made it past Holtby.

The Capitals have now won the last four times they’ve faced elimination in Game 6, and they’re 7-1 this postseason in games they’ve scored first.

Now it’s back to New York on Saturday for the right to play New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Finals – an appearance that would be the Capitals’ first since the 1997-98 season.

“Yeah, you know, it’s where we want to be,” Holtby said. “We didn’t expect a short series. We expected six or seven, so we’ve put ourselves in a good position and we’ll approach it like any other game and just do the little things right. If it pays off, it does.”


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