Just when superstar sniper Alexander Ovechkin was feeling the pressure in Game 7, Sergei Fedorov, the Washington Capitals' old Russian warhorse, took it upon himself to respond to it.
Fedorov scored with 4:59 remaining as the hometown Capitals edged the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.
"He beat me with a good shot," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "The difference between winning and losing a game like this is so small."
Fedorov's heroics capped a remarkable comeback by Washington, which erased 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits to eliminate the stubborn Rangers and reach the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Let's face it," Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Realistically, we should have won the first six games."
"We had to win," Capitals general manager George McPhee admitted. "You cannot just have good [regular] seasons and not win in the playoffs."
Fedorov received the puck from linemate Matt Bradley and skated into the offensive zone in full flight, pulling up in front of Rangers defenceman Wade Redden and unleashing a wrist shot that beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder.
"There was not much going on, so I decided to shoot the puck," Fedorov said. "I guess Henrik went down and I tried to go top shelf, short side."
It was a spectacular shot by a skilled veteran in the twilight of his career and 15 years removed from winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL's premier performer — the same honour bestowed on the ebullient Ovechkin last season.
"Experience sometimes pays off," Boudreau said of Fedorov. "He knew what he had to do, when to do it [and] that is what makes him one of the greatest players ever."
Ovechkin, who led the league with 56 goals this season, keyed Washington's comeback by scoring in three consecutive games.
But hockey's most exciting star was kept in check Tuesday night, even though he proclaimed Lundqvist "cannot play every game like a god."
Washington had rallied from 1-3 to clinch a post-season series only once before, eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1988 Patrick Division semifinals.
"I'm sure we got some experience from this," Fedorov said. "Especially with it being Game 7 and everything.
"I hope the young guys realize it's not over until it's over. That every shift means something."
Alexander Semin also scored and rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 13 saves as the second-seeded Capitals won their first playoff series since 1998, when they were Stanley Cup finalists.
Varlamov, pressed into service when former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore faltered in the series opener, surrendered just seven goals in six playoff games.
"Like I always say, it is nice to be young and not really know what is going on around you," Fedorov said.
Next up for Washington is the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semifinals.
"We have to try to keep our emotions and get ready for the next round," Ovechkin said.
Nik Antropov opened the scoring and Lundqvist faced 24 shots in a losing cause for the seventh-ranked Rangers.
"We came in here believing in ourselves," Redden said. "I thought we fought hard tonight.
"It was disappointing. It was, basically, overtime when it gets late in the third like that.”
New York hadn't faced a winner-take-all scenario since vanquishing the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final.
That same season was the last time the Rangers and Capitals met in the playoffs.
"You look back and you say, 'We had 'em down, we had our foot on them and we let them up," Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky said.
Back behind the bench
Head coach John Tortorella was back behind the bench following a one-game suspension for jousting with Washington fans in Game 5.
"Sure, I regret not being there," he said. "I'm part of the team and I want to be with the team.
"Do I think it had an effect as far as the outcome? No.
"We probably played our best game of the series. But it just wasn't good enough."
New York's most impactful skater Tuesday might have been much-maligned agitator Sean Avery, who notched an assist, avoided the penalty box and doled out hits with abrasive conviction.
Capitals captain Chris Clark returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring a wrist on Jan. 27, replacing enforcer Donald Brasher, who is suspended six games for his role in two separate incidents in Game 6.
Brashear bumped Rangers enforcer Colton Orr during the pre-game warm-up, and hit Blair Betts so hard in the first period that the Rangers forward sustained a broken orbital bone.
New York nearly scored in the opening minute of the contest, but Nik Antropov lost an edge — and control of the puck — as he tried to deke Varlamov.
However, Antropov remained undaunted and staked the Rangers to a 1-0 lead 5:35 into the first period, burying a rebound for his second goal of the series.
Avery won a battle for the puck in the corner and backhanded it to Dubinsky, who had the puck poked off his stick by Varlamov and directly to Antropov in the slot.
The Capitals replied on just their second shot, a wrister from Semin that bounced off Rangers forward Ryan Callahan and fluttered past Lundqvist at the 15:34 mark.
Lundqvist kept it deadlocked with a pair of splendid saves early in the second period, stopping a rising wrist shot from Ovechkin with his blocker and diving to his left to deny Viktor Kozlov on the rebound.
Lundqvist stood tall into the third period, when he foiled Semin on an odd-man rush with Ovechkin less than three minutes in.
After Fedorov put Washington ahead 2-1, Lundqvist made a stellar pad save on David Steckel in the final minute, but the Rangers couldn't score the equalizer.
"We're not an offensive juggernaut and that came back to bite us," Tortorella said. "We're just not developing enough offence."With files from The Associated Press