Rangers host Capitals in Game 7 of East semis

After splitting the first six games of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will meet tonight for a decisive Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

The top-seeded Rangers hope home-ice advantage will allow them to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1997. New York, which beat Ottawa in seven games in the opening round, is 4-3 on home ice in the playoffs after going 27-12-2 at the Garden in the regular season.

New York is 4-5 all-time in Game 7s, but is 4-0 in seventh games at MSG.

The seventh-seeded Capitals also won in seven games in the last round, eliminating the Bruins in overtime in the decisive contest in Boston. Joel Ward tallied the OT game-winner to send Washington into the second round and end Boston's hopes of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

Washington is 3-7 all-time in Game 7s, including a 1-1 mark on the road. The Caps, who are aiming for their first conference finals appearance since 1998, are 4-3 on the road this postseason after posting a poor 16-21-4 record as the guest in the regular season.

The winner of tonight's game will face the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, which are set to begin on Monday. If the Rangers win, they'll host the Devils in Game 1, while Washington would start the third round on the road.

The Rangers used a late rally to post a dramatic 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 on home ice, but the Blueshirts were unable to close the series out in Wednesday's Game 6 at Washington.

Facing elimination, Washington got 30 saves from rookie goaltender Braden Holtby to take a 2-1 win over New York to stave off elimination and tie the series at 3-3.

Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera each posted a goal while Nicklas Backstrom added two assists for the Capitals.

"There's a lot of character in that room," said Washington head coach Dale Hunter. "We caught some bad breaks in the last game, but these guys worked their tails off tonight and got the job done."

Capitals forward Jay Beagle missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury and is questionable for tonight. Beagle is a key defensive forward for Washington and has one goal, one assist and a plus-one rating in 12 playoff games this season.

Marian Gaborik scored in the final minute of Game 6 while Henrik Lundqvist turned away 21 shots for the Rangers.

"We had a slow start tonight and they were able to take advantage of it," said New York forward Ryan Callahan. "But we have home ice. It's what you fight for all season long and this is where it pays off."

There's a good chance that tonight's game will be close, as five games in this series have been decided by one goal. The Caps and Rangers have combined to play in 22 one-goal games out of 26 postseason contests this season.

Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko has never lost a Game 7 and has three goals and an assist in five decisive contests. Washington defenseman Roman Hamrlik has played in eight Game 7s and leads all Capital players with five points -- all assists -- in this situation.

Lundqvist is 1-1 all-time in Game 7s, while Holtby's first experience in a decisive contest came in the opening round against Boston.

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 beat the Rangers in a Game 7 to take the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Capitals erased a 3-1 deficit in that series.