WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have skated into unfamiliar territory. They have finally finished a series early, earning a bunch of days off during the playoffs.
Ovechkin quickly raced past and around defenseman Marc Staal to score the game's highlight goal in the second period. In the process, the Capitals made short work of the New York Rangers, beating them 3-1 Saturday to win the first-round series in five games.
"We've never done it before," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I'll have to give my head a shake when I wake up tomorrow and wonder where we're supposed to be playing."
Boudreau had led the Capitals through four playoff series since becoming coach in 2007, and all four had gone seven games. Three were won by the other team, including a first-round defeat to the Montreal Canadiens last year after Washington took a 3-1 lead.
"Last year, when we had the lead 3-1, we thought it was over, and it was not over," Ovechkin said. "We relaxed. Right now, everybody focused and nobody relaxed."
"It couldn't have gone too much better than the way it did," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We said to ourselves we wanted to try and win a series, if we can, in four or five and get as much rest as possible — because you definitely feel the effects through a seven-game series."
Mike Green and Alexander Semin also scored for Washington. Green seemed to be OK after taking another puck to the head. Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves and had a shutout until the final minute as the more defensive-minded Capitals allowed only eight goals in the series — and just two in their three home wins.
"Can you hear us?" goes without saying in the always sold out din located in the city's Chinese quarter, so the Capitals fans alternated "Let's go Caps" with "We are louder" and held up signs such as "No MSG in our Chinatown."
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis' production crew put on another laugh-out-loud pregame video, featuring "Friday the 13th" footage and the words "April 20th: Game IV — Jason Takes Manhattan," a reference to Jason Chimera's winning goal in double overtime of Game 4 in New York on Wednesday.
No doubt the dispute will linger over whose building is louder, but the more important argument has been firmly settled: The team from Washington is better.
Wojtek Wolski scored the lone goal in the waning seconds for the Rangers, who barely squeezed into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a dearth of skill players further depleted by the absence of second-leading scorer Ryan Callahan. Callahan broke a leg in the final week of the regular season.
"When I look back at the series, when we face a team like Washington that I think may be a little bit better, a little more skilled, we got some opportunities and you need to grab them. And we didn't," said New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who sat dejectedly in the locker room before speaking. "We had a chance to get some wins in (overtimes in) Game 1 or Game 4. You can't expect to win every night, but when you have that chance and opportunity, you need to grab it."
PHT: Logan Couture shook off an injury earlier in the game to score an overtime goal that gave San Jose a win in Game 3 and trimmed Los Angeles' series lead to 2-1.
Ovechkin on keys to series win
April 23, 2011: The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin explains how a defensive-minded strategy worked for his team against the Rangers.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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