WASHINGTON, DC — The Washington Capitals entered their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series seeking some kind of declarative statement that this time it's going to be different.
That their team philosophy, slowing down their run-and-gun offense, was one that could win in the postseason. That they wouldn't lose to another team built like the New York Rangers, whose combination of tight defense and stellar goaltending had frustrated and defeated them in the past. That their underwhelming playoff performers would finally answer the bell.
Alex Semin's goal with 1:36 left in the first overtime of Game 1 was that statement. Here's a player who peppered Jaroslav Halak one year ago with 44 shots without scoring a goal, tallying just two assists in the seven-game loss. On Wednesday night, he surpassed his goal total and matched his point total from last postseason in the Caps' 2-1 win over the Rangers.
"We're not going anywhere if he's not scoring," said Caps forward Mike Knuble. "He's a humongous offensive threat. When he gets his chances, he's as dangerous as anybody."
The game-winner from Semin, on a steal and pass from Jason Arnott:
"I don't even remember it. It happened so fast. I saw him intercept the puck and I just tried to get open in the center," said Semin through a translator.
And his thoughts after the puck went in?
"Now, we rest," said Semin.
Arnott, making an impact in his first playoff game with the Capitals, said he knew putting Semin in that kind of shooting position could have meant the game-winner.
"Their D was gonna dump it out and I just caught it. I was thinking about shooting it and I just saw Sash open up, and threw it across," he said. "That was the only way we were going to beat Lundqvist, going side to side on him."
Lundqvist seemed impenetrable in making 31 saves, until the Capitals struck at 13:44 of the third period, trailing 1-0.
Semin waited by the side of the net and fired on Lundqvist. There was scramble in front, with the puck buried in the bodies -- the sort of thing that usually earns a whistle. It didn't, and Alex Ovechkin pounded the puck over the line, with video review confirming the referee's goal call on the ice.
"It looks like the ref is looking to blow the whistle, but I am not sure what his thinking was. They called it a goal — I am not going to whine about it," said Rangers coach John Tortorella.
It tied the game after the Rangers shocked the home crowd with a goal 1:56 into the third.
Brandon Prust began the play by beating John Erskine in the corner and keeping the puck alive to Wojtek Wolski, who was uncovered behind the Capitals' net. Defenseman Matt Gilroy snuck in from the point to the right circle and fired a shot that beat Michal Neuvirth (24 saves), who had Brian Boyle's considerable frame crowding his crease.
It was Gilroy's first goal since January 5.
The Capitals had their chances to put a puck behind Lundqvist prior to that goal. Ovechkin and Knuble whiffed on open net chances in the first. Backstrom had a gaping net in the second period but couldn't fire a shot. Semin hit a post in the first period that sent the puck about 20 feet in the air. Jason Chimera had a one-timer on an odd-man rush that he pushed about 5 feet wide of the cage.
It was a game the Rangers could have easily won, playing a smart and frustrating game on the road. And it may have been a game the old Capitals may have lost.
But the statement after the overtime win was clear: Semin, one of their biggest disappointments last season, could be a factor this postseason.
"It's perfect. It's what we need from him. Hopefully, it's going to continue," said center Nicklas Backstrom.