WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Led by Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals dumped the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and bury memories of last year's post-season collapse.
While Capitals fans were breathing a sigh of relief, nerves were jangling in Pittsburgh after the Penguins were zapped 8-2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With the Penguins unable to clinch the best-of-seven quarter-final action now shifts to Florida for Game Six on Monday with the Lightning having trimmed the Pittsburgh advantage to 3-2.
The Boston Bruins also grabbed a 3-2 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens when Nathan Horton scored 9:03 into double overtime to lift the home side to a dramatic 2-1 victory.
After dropping the opening two games of the series, the Bruins have stormed back to win three straight and take control with Game Six scheduled in Montreal on Tuesday.
Horton's goal decided what had been a riveting goaltending duel, Bruins Tim Thomas, a Vezina trophy finalist as the NHL's top netminder, facing 45 shots while Canadiens Carey Price was no less brilliant handling a playoff career-high 51.
Bruins Brad Marchand broke open a scoreless contest early in the third sweeping home a rebound past Price but Jeff Halpern would answer for the Canadiens later in the period sending the contest to overtime.
An inspired Ovechkin set up Washington's first goal then scored the second as the Capitals wrapped up their series 4-1 to join the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
"Today was his (Ovechkin) best game, easily," praised Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. "And I mean complete.
"The other games he had flashes of brilliance. Today, he was very visible. He was on the ice doing the right things."
A year ago, the top-seeded Capitals had been in the same commanding position, leading the Canadiens 3-1 before suffering one of the most stunning collapses in the Stanley Cup playoffs, losing three straight to be bounced from the opening round.
But this season there would be no letdown as Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin provided the offense while netminder Michal Neuvirth turned in another outstanding effort.
Steven Stamkos, Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina each scored a pair of goals as the Lightning clobbered the Penguins to keep alive their first round series.
Facing elimination, the Lightning finally gained production from their big guns and another superb netminding effort from Dwayne Roloson, who was rock solid handling 33 shots.
Stamkos, Tampa's leading goal-scorer during the regular season with 45, had been held scoreless through the playoffs but he broke out of his slump with two goals and an assist.
"It was just do-or-die, I had to have my best game," Stamkos told reporters. "This was the biggest game of my career so far. It's just the whole mentality of the team, the reality is you lose and you're out."
Gagne and Kubina also notched their first scores of the post-season while Vincent Lecavalier and Dominic Moore each had a goal.
(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Patrick Johnston)