After posting a dramatic comeback win in the last meeting, the top-seeded New York Rangers will try to finish off the Washington Capitals tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
This best-of-seven series between the Rangers and Capitals was tied at 2-2 heading into Monday's Game 5 in New York. It appeared as though Washington would gain the 3-2 advantage in this series entering the closing seconds of regulation, but the Rangers pulled out an improbable victory in the pivotal contest.
The seventh-seeded Capitals led Game 5 by a 2-1 score when a double-minor penalty was assessed to Washington's Joel Ward after he caught New York's Carl Hagelin with a high stick with 21.3 seconds to play. With Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist pulled for a 6-on-4 advantage, Brad Richards scored his fifth goal of the playoffs with 7.6 seconds left in regulation to even the score and send the game to overtime.
The Rangers then won the game while still on the power play in overtime as John Mitchell won a right circle draw back to Marc Staal, who slid to his left then cranked a shot that deflected off a Capital and past a screened Braden Holtby for the win. Holtby stopped 35 shots in the loss.
"They're all emotional games," said New York head coach John Tortorella. "It's a kick in the gut when you lose because it happens so quickly and it's pretty exciting when you win because it happens quick."
Thanks to the dramatic win in Game 5, the Rangers can end this series tonight and earn their first trip to the conference finals since 1997. Meanwhile, Washington needs to win this evening to set up a decisive Game 7 this Saturday in New York. Both teams went the distance in the opening round, as the Capitals ousted second-seeded Boston and the Rangers defeated No. 8 seed Ottawa.
Anton Stralman scored the other goal for the Rangers, while Lundqvist needed to make only 16 stops for the win.
Brooks Laich and John Carlson each scored for the Capitals, who will have to win the last two games of this series if they want to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1998. Washington also made its one and only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in '98.
"We've been resilient all year so we have to come back home and play a hockey game," said Washington head coach Dale Hunter. "Everyone battled out there tonight and we just caught some bad breaks."
Washington is 2-3 on home ice in the playoffs after going 26-11-4 at the Verizon Center in the regular season. The Rangers and Capitals split Games 3 and 4 of this series in D.C. The clubs have alternated wins and losses since the start of this round, with New York taking the odd-numbered games and Washington winning Games 2 and 4.
New York is 3-2 on the road this postseason and was 24-12-5 away from the Big Apple during the 2011-12 campaign.
The Rangers are the top seed in the East for the first time since they won their last Stanley Cup title in 1994.
This marks the seventh playoff series between the Rangers and Capitals and Washington has taken four of those six matchups. The Capitals beat New York in the conference quarterfinals in both 2009 and 2011, winning last year's series in just five games. The last time the Rangers defeated Washington was in the 1994 conference semifinals.
Washington overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Rangers in the 2009 playoffs.