It’s the first time Washington has won a series in fewer than seven games since 1997-98, when it defeated Ottawa in the Eastern Conference semifinals en route to the franchise’s only trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
“Last year we had a lead, 3-1 [against Montreal], and we thought it was over and we was a little bit relaxed,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored the game-winner in arguably his strongest performance of this postseason. “Now everybody focused and everybody don’t have any relaxes. We’re learning and again we make one step and tomorrow’s a new day, a new series.”
Rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves in another unflappable outing. In the series, he stopped all but eight of the 148 shots he faced in five games for a .946 save percentage and 1.38 goals against average, both tops in the NHL.
Neuvirth received plenty of support from his Washington teammates as well, who picked up where they left off after Game 4’s emotional comeback and didn’t give the Rangers a chance to play from an advantageous position. New York’s lone goal in the concluding contest, by Wojtek Wolski, came as an irrelevant gasp with 31.5 seconds remaining in regulation. That goal followed a stretch of 118 minutes and 17 seconds, dating from Game 4, that the Capitals, and Neuvirth, held the Rangers scoreless.
“We had a huge start, but we didn’t have a pregame skate, so I felt a little rusty,” said Neuvirth, whose junior, minor league and now NHL teams are undefeated in the 15 playoff series he has started in North America. “But the guys did awesome job, [I] took a lot of shots from the outside. All series long I was making the effort, and it’s an unbelievable feeling right now.”
Last spring, a slow start proved to be the Capitals’ undoing when they failed to put away their series against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5. This time, the Capitals did not make the same error. Washington had plenty of energy from the opening faceoff and quickly parlayed it into heavy occupation of the offensive zone.
A plethora of shots greeted Henrik Lundqvist, who managed to hold off the barrage, but only until Washington was given its first power play of the game with Bryan McCabe headed off for tripping Alexander Semin. Lundqvist, who had 24 saves, made an initial stop on a point shot by Mike Green, but when a mess of bodies converged on the net, no one could prevent the Capitals defenseman from poking the loose puck home for a 1-0 lead just less than six minutes into the game.