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Capitals Take Rangers to the Limit

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By HOWARD FENDRICH   AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Alex Ovechkin rebounded from a rare zero-shot
performance by scoring after 88 seconds Wednesday night, Braden
Holtby made 30 saves, and the Washington Capitals recovered from a
potentially devastating loss by beating the top-seeded New York
Rangers 2-1 to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Two nights after blowing a lead in the last 10 seconds of
regulation and losing in overtime, the No. 7-seeded Capitals showed
immediately they were over it. Ovechkin’s early power-play goal and
Jason Chimera’s second-period score were just enough for the
unflappable playoff rookie Holtby.

The teams meet in New York on Saturday night to determine who
will face the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals.
With his mom covering her eyes in the stands, Holtby made only
one error, and it came with 50.5 seconds left _ a goal that was
credited to Marian Gaborik and deflected off a skate and someone in
a scrum in the crease. Forgive any Capitals fans for thinking,
“Uh, oh. Here we go again.” But Washington held on this time.
Ovechkin’s reduced role became a major talking point throughout
these playoffs: Usually a 20-minute-a-game guy, he played as few as
13 1/2 minutes in Game 2 against New York. He also came up quiet in
Game 5 on Monday night, with no shots on goal, only the second time
in 49 career playoff games that had happened to the man they call
Alex the Great.

That 3-2 victory for the Rangers was the sort of setback that
can be tough to set aside. New York scored one power-play goal to
tie it with 7.6 seconds left in the third period, and another to
win it about 1 1/2 minutes into overtime.

The Capitals, though, staved off elimination and are proving to
be quite adept at bouncing back. They’re 4-0 in games immediately
after overtime losses in these playoffs; they haven’t lost
consecutive games since March 22-23; and Holtby is 6-0 after any
defeat this postseason, his first in the NHL.

Before Wednesday’s game, Ovechkin told reporters: “We just
can’t go home right now.”
He helped make sure they didn’t yet.

Fewer than 1 1/2 minutes after the opening faceoff, the two-time
NHL MVP dropped to a knee as he powered a slap shot just inside the
right post from about 30 feet in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
It was Ovechkin’s 30th career playoff goal, tying the franchise
record held by Peter Bondra, and came 15 seconds after Rangers
defenseman Anton Stralman was sent to the penalty box for tripping
Chimera.

Another miscue followed: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh wasted a
chance to clear the puck, instead sending it along the boards right
to a Capitals player. That giveaway led to a series of crisp passes
by the Capitals _ Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were credited
with assists _ and an animated earful for McDonagh from Rangers
coach John Tortorella.

That early edge proved to be a good omen for the Capitals, who
are 7-1 this postseason when scoring first _ and 0-5 when their
opponent scores first. In this series, all six games were won by
whichever team led 1-0.

Later in the first period, Ovechkin nearly scored one of his
YouTube-ready, “How did he do that?” goals, somehow managing to
lift the puck past Lundqvist while belly-flopping onto the ice. But
the puck hit the crossbar. Then, at the opposite end of the rink,
Ovechkin used his back to block a shot by McDonagh, preventing the
puck from even approaching Holtby _ the sort of thing the Russian
wing is not known for, but his teammates have turned into an art
form this postseason.

Entering Wednesday, the Capitals ranked No. 1 in blocked shots _
the Rangers were No. 2 _ and also led in takeaways during these
playoffs.

Washington still can score, too, even if its offense is far less
imposing than it once was, and the host took a 2-0 lead with 9:01
left in the second period on Chimera’s chip-in goal. Defenseman
John Carlson took a shot from the right circle that deflected off
the tip of Backstrom’s skate and slid across the crease, right to
Chimera’s stick.

It was the second two-goal lead Washington had held all series,
its first since the opening period of Game 2.

A little more than a minute later, though, the Rangers got a
good chance to change the tenor of Game 6, when Capitals forward
Jeff Halpern _ playing for the first time in more than six weeks _
was called for high-sticking John Mitchell, a 4-minute double
minor.

That was the same penalty called on Washington’s Joel Ward in
the final 30 seconds of regulation in Game 5, while the Capitals
nursed a 2-1 lead. And, well, we know how that turned out.

This time, though, the Capitals’ penalty killers were up to the
task, allowing the Rangers only three shots and no goals. When
Halpern skated out of the box, the lead intact, the red-clad
Capitals fans gave their team a standing ovation.

NOTES: The NHL announced Wednesday that Game 7 will start at
7:30 p.m. EDT. … The Rangers haven’t reached the conference
finals since 1997; the Capitals haven’t since 1998. … Capitals F
Jay Beagle was scratched because of what the team said was a
lower-body injury _ even though coach Dale Hunter repeatedly told
reporters earlier in the day that Beagle would play. Taking his
spot in the lineup was Halpern, who hadn’t played since getting 4
1/2 minutes of ice time on March 23. … The Capitals have won
seven of their past eight home games against the Rangers.
Washington eliminated New York in 2009 and last season.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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