Capitals finally earn some playoff rest

For the first time in 13 years, the Washington Capitals won’t need a Game 7 to decide a playoff series.

Behind goals from Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, the Capitals beat the Rangers 3-1 Saturday afternoon, winning their quarterfinal series in five games. Now, they will be able to sit, wait and rest while the remainder of the first round concludes.

The MVP of the series for Washington was goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who had 26 saves Saturday and a shutout snapped with less than a minute to play.

“He didn’t give them a chance,” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He was great. He’d cover up pucks and wouldn’t allow rebounds . . . a lot of people don’t know his name too much, but he’s a heck of a goalie.”

Neuvirth had help from his defense and penalty kill, who limited the Rangers’ chances all game and series long. Everyone from the fourth line to the top stars went down to block shots or clear the puck, and it resulted in stifling defense: In the five games, the Rangers had just eight total goals.

“Our penalty kill was good all season long,” Neuvirth said. “The guys are paying the price blocking shots. We’re playing as a group.”

Added Ovechkin: “You can see how we sacrifice our bodies . . . it was very important for us to not give them any chances to score goals or don’t give them momentum. We scored the second goal and then played very well defensively.”

As good as Neuvirth was, a quick start by Washington ignited the team — and the fans — and forced the Rangers to battle uphill all game long. The Capitals dominated the first period, leading in shots 13-6 and, more importantly, on the scoreboard.

“I thought that we came out like a ball of fire,” defenseman John Carlson said. “In front of our fans, they’ve been so good to us in the playoffs and the regular season. It was good to get out to a lead and not sit on it but keep pushing forward. I thought we did a great job of that.”

Once they had the lead, they continued to push, but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist kept his team from falling behind even further. In the second period, though, Ovechkin broke free past defenseman Marc Staal and beat Lundqvist, increasing Washington’s lead to 2-0.

Ovechkin, who ended with six points (three goals, three assists) in the five games, played his best game of the series — and it wasn’t just because he scored.

“Today was his best game, easily,” Boudreau said. “And I mean complete. The other games he’s had flashes of brilliance. Today, I thought he was very visible. He was on the ice doing the right things.”

Led by Ovechkin and Neuvirth, the Capitals were able to keep the Rangers off the board and hold on to win the series. While they’ll enjoy the rest they now have, they know Saturday’s series win was just one step in what they hope will be a long postseason.

“It’s first time we win the series in five games,” Ovechkin said. “It’s pretty cool, we have time to rest. Right now I feel pretty good, but it’s not over yet, it’s just one step.”