New York, NY – Chris Kreider scored the deciding goal and added an assist in the third period to lift the New York Rangers over the Washington Capitals, 3-1, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov also scored, while Henrik Lundqvist made 17 saves for the top-seeded Rangers, who came back from a 3-2 series deficit to topple the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators in the conference quarterfinals.
"I think we played really well," said Lundqvist. "Coming from that Game 7, such an emotional and big win, it was important for us to regroup and start all over."
Braden Holtby allowed all three goals on 14 shots for seventh-seeded Washington, which is also coming off a seven-game series win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Jason Chimera netted the Capitals' lone goal.
Game 2 of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Monday night in New York.
The game entered the third period tied at 1-1, and after the Rangers could not convert on an early power play, they took the lead for good at the seven- minute mark. Kreider received an outlet pass from Derek Stepan near mid-ice and raced into the Washington zone, where he ripped a slap shot from the high slot that beat Holtby to the glove side and sailed into the top-right corner of the net.
Then, just 90 seconds later, Richards grabbed a pass in the left corner and cruised towards the net with the puck before slipping a shot through Holtby's pads for a 3-1 Rangers lead.
Lundqvist shut the door from there, stopping all five shots he faced while also receiving help from the iron as Washington's Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had a redirection attempt carom off the post in the third period.
"We had our chances and we didn't bury them. We hit a few posts, their goalie was good and we lost the game," Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said.
Washington was awarded an early power play when Mike Rupp was called for goaltender interference after crashing into Holtby as he charged the net with the puck just 3:23 into the game, but the Capitals' Alexander Semin was whistled for slashing 27 seconds later to negate the man advantage.
Backstrom almost recorded the first goal on a power play past the midpoint of the first period after a Marc Staal interference penalty, but his shot from in close to the right of the net first deflected off Lundqvist's left arm before bouncing off the post to the short side.
New York failed to convert on a late power play in the first to keep the game scoreless entering the second period as Holtby stopped all four shots he faced and Lundqvist turned aside six in the first.
Washington was given a golden chance to record the game's first goal when the Rangers' Brandon Prust was whistled for boarding during a Capitals power play, resulting in a 5-on-3 for 33 seconds.
Washington, though, would not record a shot in the two-man advantage as the Rangers defense blocked two separate Alex Ovechkin one-timers.
On the ensuing power play, Semin had his hard wrister from the top of the left circle deflect off the swiping left arm of Lundqvist and carom out of play off the crossbar.
New York then notched the first goal of the game at the 12:38 mark of the second period when Anisimov received a pass behind the net and fought off a defender before sneaking a wraparound from the right side under the left arm of Holtby.
Johansson was denied on a break shortly after when Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman made a diving swipe at the puck from behind, allowing Lundqvist to make the save on Johansson's off-balance shot. The puck found its way into the net after Johansson slid into the goaltender, but it was quickly waved off.
Then, as time was winding down in the second period, Washington raced down the ice on a rush in which Brooks Laich flipped a saucer pass from the top of the right circle down to the left of the net and Chimera tipped it through Lundqvist's legs with 3.5 seconds showing on the clock to knot the game.
Lundqvist improved to 20-23 all-time in the postseason...The teams split the four-game regular season series...This is the third time in four years and seventh overall meeting between the clubs in the postseason. Washington holds a 4-2 advantage in the series...New York has not beaten the Capitals in the postseason since the 1994 conference semifinals...The Rangers went 0-for-4 in the power play, while Washington was 0-for-3 on the man advantage.