Fans and observers wondered if the Capitals possessed a "killer instinct." Under Bruce Boudreau they had never undergone a playoff series that lasted fewer than seven games.
Until now. The Caps finished the Rangers off in five Saturday afternoon, eliminating New York with a 3-1 victory at Verizon Center to move on to the second round.
"It was a great game by us. A great performance," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We played a good 60 minutes. We didn't allow them too many chances. [Michal Neuvirth] played great tonight. It was a great effort by everybody."
Friday, veteran Jason Arnott called getting out of the first round "a monkey on your back that you want off." He wasn't even around for last season but understands the culture around Washington after the collapse against the Canadiens.
But just about everything the Caps did wrong in last year's Game 5 they did right in this opportunity against the Rangers. Instead of overlooking a desperate New York team as they perhaps did a season ago, the Caps pounced.
Feeding off the energy of a crowd that repeatedly chanted "We are louder!" as a response to fans at Madison Square Garden, the Caps matched the Rangers stride for stride early on. Whereas they fell behind 2-0 in the first 10 minutes against the Canadiens, the Caps got on the board first with Mike Green beating Henrik Lundqvist for a power-play goal 5:59 in.
"Last year when we had the lead 3-1 we thought it was over and we was a little relaxed," Alex Ovechkin said. "Right now everybody focusing, everybody not having any relaxing."
Green would leave the game later in the first after taking a shot to the face from New York's Matt Gilroy. While he did not return, Boudreau said he was OK and could have played if the Caps needed him. Without Green, they didn't let up.
Ovechkin, who struggled in Game 5 last season, scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway to make it 2-0 in the second. And then Alexander Semin provided the dagger in the third to knock out the Rangers and lift that "monkey."
"It was good to get out to a lead and not sit on it but keep pushing forward," defenseman John Carlson said. "I thought we did a great job of that."
Well, it's at least the first-round and Game 5 monkeys. The Caps went to the second round in 2009 but lost to the Penguins, so they hope this isn't the final milestone of the playoffs.
"It's pretty cool we have time to rest, so right now we feel pretty good," Ovechkin said. "But it's not over yet – it's just one step."
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