- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

NEW YORK | Last season, the Washington Capitals had to fight with incredible desperation to force Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The New York Rangers provided far less resistance in the same situation this year.

Five Capitals players scored, including three defensemen, as Washington cruised to a 5-3 victory Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden to level this Eastern Conference quarterfinal at 3-3. The series - which the Capitals once trailed 3-1, as they did against the Flyers last year - will shift back to Verizon Center one final time Tuesday night for Game 7.

“We were in this situation,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “We have a little bit of experience, and we know what we have to do here. We still have to come out and play a perfect game to win the series.”

Poti had a goal and three assists, and rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 29 saves. New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist had another forgettable outing, yielding five goals on 20 shots and exiting after two periods for the second consecutive contest.

Since Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore in the Washington net for Game 2, the Caps have outscored the Rangers 14-6 and likely would have captured the series already were it not for transcendent performances from Lundqvist in Games 2 and 4.

“[Lundqvist] can’t play every game like a god,” Alex Ovechkin said. “He can’t save the game all of the time.”

Each of Washington’s first three goals came from defensemen. Milan Jurcina registered his first career playoff tally 7:09 into the first period with a rare wrist shot from the right circle.

Twenty-three seconds later, Shaone Morrisonn took a penalty, and the dormant New York power play converted for the first time since Game 1. Scott Gomez tipped a shot from Wade Redden past Varlamov at 8:15, but after that it was all Washington.

By the waning moments of the second period, the Garden faithful had gone from restless to concerned to indignant.

“You have to get scoring from everyone in the playoffs,” Poti said. “You can’t just have your big guys scoring every night. Your grinders and your role players have to score, too.”

Mike Green gave the Caps the lead again at 13:58 of the opening period with his first goal of the series. Alexander Semin’s shot on the power play was blocked, but the puck kicked to Green in the right circle, and he snapped a shot into the top right corner.

Poti was penalized 66 seconds later, but this time it ended up being to the Caps’ advantage. As he came out of the box, the puck came to Poti and ignited a three-on-one. Poti, Boyd Gordon and David Steckel executed a perfect tic-tac-toe passing exhibition, with Poti slamming the puck past Lundqvist at the right post for a 3-1 lead at 17:14.

If the Rangers were going to show resolve on a day coach John Tortorella was banished to a luxury suite after a run-in with a fan during Game 5 at Verizon Center, it wasn’t evident in the second period. New York went more than eight minutes without a shot, and the first one was a dump-in from center ice by defenseman Paul Mara. Meanwhile, the Caps continued to pour it on.

“We’re playing at the pace that we should have been playing at the start of the series,” Caps forward Donald Brashear said. “We should have been on top now, but they were playing better than we were. Right now we’re playing our game, and they’re not.”

Seconds after New York’s Nikolai Zherdev missed a wide-open net, Viktor Kozlov faked out defenseman Marc Staal and beat Lundqvist before barreling into the netminder at 9:21 of the second period for his second goal of the series. Ovechkin added his third of the series when he redirected a point shot from Poti with the Caps on the power play at 16:44.

The Rangers added a pair of goals in the final period to save some face, but the way the Caps dominated the first 40 minutes for the second straight game was undeniable. Now they will try to do what they could not last season: Close the deal in Game 7 on home ice.

“Obviously I am glad we have that opportunity,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I am a little worried about it - three [straight] games, when you think about it, is really a difficult task. I am pretty sure we’ll get their best.”

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