NEW YORK -- The Broadway Blueshirts had never lost a Game 7 at home.
That streak is still alive, and so is the New York Rangers' playoff run.
Michael Del Zotto's goal just past the halfway mark of the third period proved to be the difference maker as the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Saturday to clinch the Eastern Conference semifinal series and advance to the conference finals for the first time in 15 years.
The Rangers, who last played in the conference finals in 1997, will host the New Jersey Devils on Monday night after defeating the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in 2009 and 2011.
The Rangers drew first blood just 1:32 into the contest on the sixth goal of the playoffs by Brad Richards. The 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner took a feed from rookie winger Carl Hagelin in the left-wing faceoff circle and unleashed a hard slap shot that found its way through traffic at the front of the net and under the outstretched glove of Washington goaltender Braden Holtby. It was the lone scoring play of a first period that saw eight shots on goal for each team.
Washington was sharp in the second period, applying pressure in the offensive zone, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was equal to the task, stopping all 11 shots he saw in the frame for a two-period total of 19. Holtby, meanwhile, had 19 saves through two periods.
The Rangers made it 2-0 just after the halfway point of the third period on the second goal of the playoffs for Michael Del Zotto. After Marian Gaborik's initial shot was blocked by Brooks Laich and Roman Hamrlik, Del Zotto collected the loose puck and let fly with a wrist shot that found the back of the net.
The Capitals struck back just 38 seconds later with a goal by Hamrlik, his first of the playoffs. With Troy Brouwer taking up space in front of the Rangers' net, Hamrlik's shot from the point eluded a screened Lundqvist to get Washingtonon on the board.
The Rangers looked to regain their two-goal advantage on a shorthanded try by Brian Boyle, but the goal was disallowed. With Ruslan Fedotenko in the box on a delay-of-game penalty, Boyle broke in toward the net, and his initial shot appeared to be knocked into the net by a backchecking Dennis Wideman. Despite the disappointment of the disallowed goal, the Rangers remained stout on their penalty kill, spending significant chunks of time in the Washington zone and eventually drawing a slashing call against Nicklas Backstrom.
The Rangers were unable to convert on their own power-play opportunity but established pressure of their own, spending quality time in the Capitals' zone as the time ticked down. The Rangers continued to mount pressure in the last two minutes, keeping Holtby trapped in his net until the last minute of the period. Even with the extra skater, the Capitals were unable to solve Lundqvist again, and time ran out on Washington's postseason run.
NOTES: Saturday night marked Richards' 12th career elimination game. In those games, he has seven goals and eight assists. ... The Rangers are 3-0 during these playoffs in games they have led after two periods, while the Capitals had never trailed after two periods in their 13 previous playoff games in 2012. ... New York Giants center David Bass and punter Steve Weatherford were in attendance for Saturday night's game, along with New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller and receiver Patrick Turner, New York Knicks forward Jared Jeffries and tennis great John McEnroe.