- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There is one player in the Washington Capitals’ dressing room who owns a Stanley Cup ring, and that guy propelled them into the second round of these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sergei Fedorov scored his first goal of the series with 4:59 left in the final period Tuesday night, and the Caps won Game 7 against the New York Rangers 2-1 to complete a rally from down 3-1 and claim the franchise’s first playoff series victory in 11 years.

The last time the Caps went on a deep playoff run, Fedorov was a key figure for the Detroit Red Wings team that ended it in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.

“He’s a special player,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “He’s not the 25-year-old Sergei Fedorov anymore, but you still see glimpses of it. He does so much more behind the scenes too, especially with such a young team.”

Added captain Chris Clark, who played in his first game of the series: “He did it for us last year, too. 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.”

The Caps became only the 21st team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit and the first since the lockout that erased the 2004-05 season. It is the second time in franchise history - they rallied past the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round in 1988.

Fedorov took a pass from Matt Bradley in the neutral zone and skated to the right circle. He pulled up there, and the 39-year-old, left-handed center who won three Cups with the Red Wings fired a shot into the near corner, beating Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist above his glove hand to set off a delirious celebration at a sold-out Verizon Center.

“My ears are still ringing,” Clark said of the crowd. “It was like a rock concert. I just couldn’t believe how loud it was.”

The first 55 minutes of this game were uneven, and it was the first time in the series the Rangers had controlled the play for long stretches.

The Caps played their worst period of the series to open the game, but a fluke goal helped them stay even after 20 minutes. Washington was outshot 8-2 in the period - the second straight with only two shots for the Caps after they were outshot 11-2 in the final 20 minutes of Game 6 after the contest was well in hand.

Nik Antropov, whom Simeon Varlamov stopped on a breakaway in the first minute, gave the Rangers the lead at 5:35. Sean Avery and Brandon Dubinsky were able to win a battle with Brian Pothier and Fedorov in the left corner for the puck, and it came to the front of the net.

Dubinsky had the first attempt, but the puck was knocked away. Antropov swooped in and put home the rebound for his second goal of the series and New York’s first lead since Game 4.

Alexander Semin evened the score at 1-1 with his league-leading fifth goal of the playoffs at 15:34. Mike Green came out of the penalty box to help set up a three-on-three for the Caps, and Semin took Nicklas Backstrom’s pass and carried it into the left circle.

His shot was altered - first by Ryan Callahan’s stick and then by Callahan’s body as the puck took an improbable trajectory toward the net.

There was plenty of nervous energy in the second period but no scoring. The crowd was antsy about the 1-1 score with memories of last season’s Game 7 overtime loss lingering, and the Rangers continued to push the pace.

“I’m not really sure [what happened],” Pothier said of the sudden change. “We knew we weren’t playing very well, and I think maybe we were in the locker room understanding that 20 minutes to win a series is pretty much what was going for us. We felt we were the better team and worked really hard all year for this. We found a way to squeak it out.”

But the game turned in the third, and Fedorov’s goal proved to be enough. The Caps outshot the Rangers 13-1 in the final 20 minutes, and Lundqvist was never able to get to the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute.

Now it’s on to the Eastern Conference semifinals and a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With all of the star power between the two teams and the distaste between the two fan bases, it could be the most anticipated playoff series in the sport since the Colorado-Detroit rivalry in the late 1990s.

“We’re playing Pittsburgh, right?” Boudreau said moments after Carolina knocked out New Jersey to set up a Caps-Penguins series. “Welcome to the circus.”

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