Rangers host Caps, aim for 2-0 lead in East semis

The New York Rangers will try to extend their lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, as the top-seeded club hosts the Washington Capitals in tonight's Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers grabbed the early lead in this series on Saturday, beating the visiting Capitals by a 3-1 score. Rookie Chris Kreider scored the deciding goal and added an assist in the third period to help New York take a 1-0 lead in this matchup.

The 20-year-old Kreider won an NCAA Frozen Four championship with Boston College on April 7 and is now aiding the Rangers in their quest for the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1994. The speedy forward has two goals and an assist in his last three games after being held off the scoresheet in his first three NHL tests.

"To be honest it is surprising," Rangers forward Brad Richards said of Kreider's contributions so far. "This is a pretty high level he jumps into, but it shows his learning curve and his hockey IQ. He shows something every night. Let him keep going, doing that every night, making big plays and doing what he's doing."

Richards and Artem Anisimov also scored in Game 1, while Henrik Lundqvist made 17 saves for the Rangers, who came back from a 3-2 series deficit to topple the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators in the opening round.

"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."

The Rangers played without forwards Brian Boyle (concussion) and Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) in Game 1 and both players are questionable for tonight. Boyle has been out since suffering a concussion in Game 5 against the Senators. Dubinsky was injured in Game 7 of the first-round series.

Braden Holtby allowed all three goals on 14 shots on Saturday for seventh- seeded Washington, which also pulled out a seven-game series win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Round 1. Holtby, a 22-year-old rookie, was coming off a terrific Game 7 performance against the Bruins in Round 1. He stopped 31-of-32 shots in the decisive contest of the surprising first-round upset.

Jason Chimera scored the lone goal for Washington in Game 1, while superstar winger Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet and logged just one shot on goal. Alexander Semin led the Capitals, who went 0-for-4 on the power play, with three shots on net.

"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.

The Capitals are in the second round for the third time in four seasons, but Washington hasn't made it to the conference finals since 1998, when it made the franchise's only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

New York, which won the Atlantic Division title this season, is the top seed in the East for the first time since it won its last Stanley Cup title in 1994. The Rangers are aiming for their first conference finals appearance since 1997.

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.

This series will shift to Washington for Games 3 and 4 and the Capitals will host the next meeting Wednesday night in D.C.