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"Welcome to the circus"

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For 55 minutes tonight, this game was playing out just like last year — there was little flow to the game, the Caps were not playing up their standards and there was a lot of nervous energy in the building.

Then Sergei Fedorov got loose for one shot from the right circle and bedlam ensued. Fedorov’s goal was the game-winner in a 2-1 triumph as the Caps prevailed in Game 7 against the New York Rangers and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first times since 1998.

“To me it is great,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think it means more to the organization and the city of Washington. I don’t know what Chicago is like in the building other than the national anthem, but that was the loudest five minutes after we scored.”

A few minutes after Washington secured its place in the second round, Carolina scored twice in the final 80 seconds to stun New Jersey and advance. By doing so, the Caps will now face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.

It will be the most anticipated postseason series in the sport since the Detroit-Colorado rivalry ruled the hockey world in the late 90s.

“We’re playing Pittsburgh, right?” Boudreau said moments after Carolina knocked out New Jersey. “Welcome to the circus.”

Here are a few other notes and quotes from the aftermath of this one:

* This is still a very young team, but Fedorov, the eldest guy in the room, was the hero in this Game 7.

“He did it for us last year, too,” captain Chris Clark said. “He put us into the playoffs with a big goal [in the regular-season finale against Florida.] He doesn’t look old. … He’s just a machine, and he’s probably the smartest guy on our team.”

There is also a bit of irony involved here. Fedorov was a key figure for the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 when they ended Washington’s last playoff run beyond the first round in the Cup final. Fedorov had the game-winner here in Game 3.

He said during his post-game media session that he hopes this goal makes up for that.

* Simeon Varlamov didn’t see many shots, but he made a couple of huge saves to keep the Caps in it while they scuffled through the first 40 minutes. He had two make two big ones in the first 45 seconds — one on Sean Avery and on a breakaway for Nik Antropov.

He only saw one shot in the third period, but it was a good one. Varlamov is now 21 years and 1 day old, and he’s got as many NHL postseason wins (4) as he does regular season victories (4).

“He is tremendously poised,” Boudreau said. “I still haven’t talked to him since Game 1. I don’t want to screw him up, so I am leaving him alone. … I don’t know what his stomach was doing but he seemed really calm out there.”

* Alexander Semin is tied for the NHL lead with five goals after the first round. Considering the next opponent, get ready for another round of stories about his comments about a particular Penguin from earlier this season.

* Chris Clark had a pretty nice return. He played a little more eight minutes and had a couple of chances near the net. That fourth line was probably the team’s best in the first period.

“I felt pretty good. I don’t know how it looked, but I’ll have to watch it later,” Clark said. “I was swinging and swinging and I looked down and I was hitting [Boyd Gordon’s] legs [on an early chance].”

That’s all for now. The Caps are off tomorrow and will be back at practice Thursday morning in Arlington. Hope everyone is ready for the gaze of the hockey community to descend upon Washington, because it is coming.

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