New York, NY – Henrik Lundqvist thrust his arms up as the streamers came down all around him.
The New York Rangers are off to the conference finals for the first time in 15 years after escaping another Game 7.
"It feels so good," said Lundqvist. "It's been a tough series."
Lundqvist made 22 saves and the Rangers beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Saturday night in the sixth straight game in the series decided by one goal.
The Rangers will host New Jersey in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday at home.
Saturday's clincher might have been an all-time nail biter if the teams hadn't already played so many close games.
"We kept our composure," said Rangers coach John Tortorella -- no small feat considering the stakes.
Brad Richards scored New York's first goal just 92 seconds in and Michael Del Zotto made it 2-0 midway through the third period, but Roman Hamrlik replied for Washington just 38 seconds after that to cut the deficit in half.
Lundqvist had 11 of his 22 saves in the second period. He stopped 26 shots in a 2-1 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the first round to keep the top-seeded Rangers from being chased out early.
They improved to 5-0 in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden and won their seventh straight playoff series with home-ice advantage.
Eleven of their 14 wins this postseason have come by one goal.
The Caps, meanwhile, failed to make the conference finals for the first time since 1998, a year after the Rangers last did. They also played their second Game 7 of these playoffs after topping No. 2 seed Boston in the first round.
Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby made 29 saves in the loss but couldn't get off the ice for an extra attacker until there was about a minute left in the third period because of New York pressure.
"Everyone wants to keep playing, but we came up a goal short," said Capitals coach Dale Hunter. "Both teams battled. We battled, but we were a goal short."
Del Zotto gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead while the Caps were in the middle of a line change and as their star forward Alex Ovechkin was on the ice at the other end after a hit.
He beat Holtby from the high slot 10:05 into the third period, but Hamrlik's shot on net made it through a Troy Brouwer screen and was lost by Lundqvist to get the Caps within 2-1.
Hamrlik's goal came so quickly that the Madison Square Garden PA announcer was still reading off the particulars of Del Zotto's.
Down the stretch, Holtby made one of his 10 third-period saves on a Marian Gaborik shot from the right side with about 2 1/2 minutes left. He tried to go to the bench with about 80 seconds left, but had to scramble back into the net as the Rangers gained possession in the Caps' zone.
He came off with about a minute remaining and Washington had possession after a neutral-ice faceoff with 38.8 seconds remaining, but the Rangers blocked shots in front of their net and time ran down with the puck in the corner.
"We met up with a good team," said Hunter.
Earlier, Richards' goal 92 seconds in came on a one-timer from the left circle that beat Holtby to the far side with a traffic in front for a 1-0 lead.
The team that scored first in the series was 7-0.
Washington peppered Lundqvist during a lopsided shift midway into the second period, but the Vezina finalist made several good stops, including a pad save on Brouwer to keep the Caps out of the net.
"He gave us an opportunity to stay in it," said Tortorella.
Neither team won two games in a row in the series...It was the last semifinal series to be finished. The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes will play in the Western Conference finals starting Sunday in Phoenix...The Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. That series ended Tuesday...The Rangers improved to 3-4 all-time in playoff series against the Caps. Saturday marked the second time the teams met in a Game 7. The Caps beat the Rangers in the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals...Washington fell to 3-8 all-time in Game 7s.