NEW YORK – Less than 2 minutes away from seeing their franchise record-setting season come to end, the New York Rangers finally found a way to beat Braden Holtby and keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.
Chris Kreider tied it with 1:41 left in regulation and Ryan McDonagh won it 9:37 into overtime as the Rangers breathed life back into their Presidents' Trophy-winning season with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
"We are still alive," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after a 28-save performance. "Being in their shoes, we've been there. Going home now there is a lot of pressure for them. I know for sure they don't want to come back here for another game. So we'll try to use that to our advantage."
The Capitals lead the series 3-2. Game 6 is Sunday night in Washington, and there is bound to be pressure on Washington. Since 1985, it has lost nine series in which it led either 2-0 or 3-1. That includes a first-round loss to the Rangers in 2013 in which they led 2-0 and 3-2.
"Of course you want to close out the series," said Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin, who is still looking to reach his first conference final. "You have to forget about it and move forward."
The Rangers have won each of their past nine playoff games when facing elimination at Madison Square Garden, dating to Game 4 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinal round against Pittsburgh.
Holtby made 41 saves for Washington, and Curtis Glencross scored.
On the winner, Jesper Fast kept the puck in the Washington end and sent a pass to Derek Stepan in the left circle. Instead of shooting, Stepan hesitated and found McDonagh coming late down the middle. His shot flew into the net and set off a second loud celebration at Madison Square Garden.
"It was passed to Stepan and it looked like he was going to shoot it," Holtby said. "I lost him a bit with bodies in front. I saw that he dropped it back and don't know where it went. I heard it hit a stick and then that was it."
McDonagh said all he was trying to do was hit the net.
"It's a good sign for us that we found a way to win this game under immense pressure," McDonagh said.
The Rangers were 1:41 from seeing their season end when Kreider tied it from the top of the left faceoff circle. He took a pass from Stepan and fired a shot quickly to the far corner that Holtby never saw.
As Kreider swiped the air with a roundhouse, it set off a wild celebration that had the Garden shaking.
The goal came seconds after Lundqvist left his net for a sixth skater.
Until the goal, it seemed that the Capitals were going to win on Holtby's second shutout of the series and another winning goal by one of Washington's unknowns.
Joel Ward had the winner in the opener. Jay Beagle and Andre Burakovsky had the winners in Washington and Glencross seemed destined in Game 5. He broke through with 9:06 left in regulation, scoring on a breakaway after being sent in all alone by defenseman Matt Niskanen.
Lundqvist actually stopped the breakaway attempt, but Glencross chipped the rebound over the prone netminder.
"The outcome speaks for itself," Kreider said. "It's the kind of game that sheds a few years off your life, though. It'd be nice if we can pop one in early, take the pressure off of Hank, off our 'D,' off ourselves, off our fans, off our coaches."
The goaltenders have been the stars and Holtby and Lundqvist put on another show in Game 5.
Holtby set the tone early stopped 14 shots in an opening 10 minute onslaught by the Rangers. He was at his best against Martin St. Louis, making three outstanding saves, including a post-to-post pad save early when Rick Nash set up the one-time league scoring champion for a slam dunk in the crease.
Holtby also had an outstanding glove save early in the second period and a stop on a redirection later in the period.
Lundqvist was just as good although he needed a little help from the officials late in the second period to keep the game scoreless.
Niskanen, who earlier cleared a loose rebound of Stepan's shot off his own goal line, fluttered a shot into the net from the right point. Referee Kevin Pollock immediately waved off the goal, ruling that Ward bumped Lundqvist and was guilty of interference.
The Capitals objected but the call stood after the officials talked it over.
There were 29 shots, two goalposts and no goals in a fast-paced opening period. The Rangers came out flying and took 14 of the first 18 shots. Martin St. Louis hit a post and also was stopped by Holtby and his pad on a point-blank slam-dunk attempt. Nicklas Backstrom hit iron for Washington, which came on late and finished with 13 shots.
NOTES: There was a moment of silence before the game for slain NYC police officer Brian Moore, who was buried earlier in the day. ... The crowd chanted "Zucc! Zucc!" when injured Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello was shown on the overhead. He has not played in the series after being hit in the head by a shot in the final game against Pittsburgh. ... The crowd had its celebrities — Donald Trump, John McEnroe and Michael J. Fox. ...- Each of the Rangers' last 12 playoff games, including each of their 10 playoff games in 2015, has been decided by one goal.