Saturday, April 23, 2011, 9:36 p.m.
By Ryan OHalloran
They saw Vancouver and Pittsburgh lay eggs in the same situation, and they remembered what happened last year with a 3-1 series lead against Montreal.
The Capitals were not going to let up on the New York Rangers, despite having the better personnel, the more reliable goaltending, the superior special teams and the home-ice advantage.
It showed Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.
The Capitals played with urgency, as if they were down or the series was tied. They skated and shot and forechecked as if they were playing for their postseason lives. And they did what good teams who have learned their lessons do finish out a series at the first opportunity.
In what has to be classified as a breakthrough for the organization, the Capitals needed only five games to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
No trying to steal another game on the road. No having to answer questions about another potential fold-up. No having to worry about a Game 7.
It feels good, center Nicklas Backstrom said. Weve always been in a seven-game series, so its good to get some days off and practice well and make sure we stay focused on the next round.
Center Jason Arnott said: Its huge. To win that fourth game is always tough. It would have been tough to finish it out up there.
Game 6 in the Garden would have been a tall order, and as the Capitals have experienced, Game 7 is a crap shoot anything can happen.
The Capitals made sure this year wasnt like last year. Their best players rose up (goals by Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin), their defense was airtight (the Rangers had only seven shots in the first 30 minutes) and they played more composed (only two penalty kills).
It started from the opening faceoff. Six minutes later, Green scored on the power play.
It meant the whole game, winger Matt Hendricks said of the opening 10 minutes. We came out and established ourselves early and played a high-energy game and get them on their heels.
The Capitals played the opposite of how Vancouver and Pittsburgh did in their Game 5s. Both teams were routed and now must win on the road to avoid a seventh game. The Capitals recent history suggested the series was going back to New York the franchise had lost more than it had won when it came to closing out a series in five games.
But most of those teams didnt have Ovechkin (goal, assist), and the Moscow Dynamo is why it was so huge to end the series.
To win the Stanley Cup, teams need to have at least one short series (five or fewer games). The Capitals will have at least five days off, vital for a player who skates as much as Ovechkin and plays his brutally physical style.
The past five Cup champions had at least one short series Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit had one series sweep.
The Capitals are still a long way from the Cup finals, much less the trophy. But it was telling in the locker room that the players realize the job is only 25 percent done. Unlike two years ago, when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rangers, there will be a few days to savor this accomplishment instead of switching their focus immediately to a new opponent.
As Arnott said, Its only one series. The Capitals arent satisfied.
We have higher goals than this, Backstrom said. Its fun tonight, but tomorrow we have to regroup and think about Round 2.
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